BWW Review: ANASTASIA Sparkles at Providence Performing Arts Center
ANASTASIA, based on the 1997 animated musical film of the same name, tells the tale of the supposed daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, who was alleged to have escaped her family's execution. Though the plot is based on historical events, it's not necessarily historically accurate, preferring instead to gloss over the larger events and focus on the people like the Dowager Empress, who escaped the Russian Revolution and is alive in Paris, and Anya, the young girl who may be the lost princess. This romantic plot glosses over the nuances of Russian history, and focusing on one girl with no memory, and who she actually might be, and she happens to live in Leningrad. That's not to say this is all fluff, there are some stunning visuals that hint at the violence of the revolution. This show has clearly tried to appeal to both children and adults, and it's walked that line very well.
The story begins briefly in 1906, when the Tsar is still in power and Anastasia is a young girl. Though the scene with her and her family is quite brief, it quickly sets the standard for the astonishing costumes in this production. Tsarina Alexandra floats across stage in a white gown festooned with glitter and sparkly baubles topped with a massive crown. She is every inch a queen, and the sharp contrast when the scene cuts from the white and glittery St. Petersburg Winter Palace to 1917 U.S.S.R where everything is bathed in red and silhouettes of Lenin and Stalin rise up in the background is jarring and very effective.
The costumes in the production, designed by Linda Cho, are worthy of all the praise in the world. Going from Pre-revolution Russia, to the U.S.S.R., to Paris, the costumes set each scene perfectly in place and time. The somewhat minimal (for a Broadway musical) sets are enhanced with screens that take the audience quickly from palace to street scene, to train trip. While Aaron Rhyne's projections are generally quite effective, they are so heavily used that it almost seems like they just couldn't be bothered to build enough sets for this production. Sure it's based on a movie, but can't we have some physical sets and effects for the stage version?
There's no quibbling with the cast, however. The three main characters are Anastasia (Lila Coogan), Dimitry (Stephen Brower) and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer), and they all work together very well. Dimitry and Vlad are two con men hoping to find a woman to pass as the long-lost princess, so that they can cash in the reward offered by the Dowager Empress. When they meet Anya, it quickly becomes apparent to them that she might be the actual Anastasia, and they set their plans into motion.
While Lila Coogan's acting can be a bit wooden at times, once she starts singing, it's very clear why she was cast in this role. Her voice is a showstopper, and her treatment of "Journey to the Past" is absolutely stunning and heartbreaking. As Dimitry, Stephen Brower is serviceable and has a lovely innocent chemistry with Anya, but he frequently gets upstaged by Staudenmayer, who has an astonishing baritone and some of the best one-liners in the show. That's not to discount Brower's performance, his character is less flamboyant than Vlad, and thankfully they don't compete to one up each other.
The most comic performance of the night go to Countess Lily played by Tari Kelly. She not only has an excellent singing voice, but she's an amazing physical comedian. She and Vlad meet up and rekindle their long-ago romance in a scene that is hammy and giddy and just fun to watch. It seems a bit tacked on, but also it's really hilarious.
There is a lot to like about this production. Refreshingly, it plays to its strengths and isn't trying to be more than it is. It focuses on songs, bits of humor and romance, and though the ending is it a bit of a letdown, it's still an entertaining night of theatre.
Anastasia runs November 27-December 2 at Providence Performing Arts Center 220 Weybosset St Providence, Rhode Island 02903. Tickets available at PPACRI.org or by calling (401) 421 - ARTS (2787).
ANASTASIA is designated as a family show. All ages are permitted; however, ANASTASIA recommends that show is best for children ages 7+