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BWW Review: ANASTASIA at The Paramount Theatre

A dazzling spectacle lacking much else.

BWW Review: ANASTASIA at The Paramount Theatre
Sam McLellan (Dmitry) and Kyla Stone (Anya)
in Anastasia at the Paramount Theatre.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel

Dear Readers, some of you may remember the 1997 animated rendition of "Anastasia" that the current musical production at the Paramount is based on ... loosely. We still have most of those lovely Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty songs from the animated version and the story is still about a young girl discovering that she is the lost Romanov daughter and trying to make her way to Paris to reunite with her grandmother. But don't expect to see the magical immortal Rasputin as the villain or a wise cracking bat for comic relief. However, if you really wanted that animated version on stage, you may be in luck as many of the performances last night were inexplicably cartoonish in a show with a few memorable songs but a convoluted story that made little sense if you pay attention to it.

The basic story you may know. The royal Romanov's are deposed in St. Petersburg, Russia due to a revolt of the working class and killed. But the youngest daughter, Anastasia, is rumored to have escaped and her grandmother, The Dowager Empress (Gerri Weagraff), who went to Paris before the coup, has been searching for Anastasia for 10 years with imposter after imposter attempting to con her out of her money. Back in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) con men Dimitri and Vlad (Sam McLellan and Bryan Seastrom) are searching for a girl they can try and pass off as the heir. Enter Anya (Kyla Stone), who has no idea who she really is due to amnesia but who goes along with their scheme if it will get her to Paris where she "feels someone is waiting for her". But as they train her up to be the lost Princess, she begins to remember her past and comes to find she actually is Anastasia. And of course, she also falls in love with the dashing Dimitri, but we'll get to that.

If this sounds like a perfect story, rife with elements for a historical drama, you'd be right. So, it's no wonder that the amazing Ahrens and Flaherty dusted off their old songs from the cartoon to expand into a stage show. And to make things even more foolproof, they got the equally amazing Terrence McNally to write the book. With these artists, three of my all-time favorites mind you, at the helm it's sure to be a winner, right? Well, I guess everyone needs a clunker. First let's talk about the music. It's grand and lively and soaring and not very memorable. Except for the often covered "Journey to the Past" and often repeated lullaby of the show, "Once Upon a December", I'd be hard pressed to come up with another song without looking it up. And then there's the book. Since we got rid of the out-of-place-in-this-show Rasputin, we need a new antagonist. So, they bring in Gleb (Brandon Delgado), a soldier in the people's army who is determined to keep the people of Leningrad in line and to root out anyone attempting to pretend to be the lost royal. But then he meets Anya and after two brief conversations he decides he's in love with her. (CREEP ALERT) So he follows her to Paris (even creepier) to track her down and once he finds her he will ... what? They don't really bother with things like that here. SPOILER ALERT: he does track her down and ends up pulling a gun on her but can't kill her because he loves her ... after two meetings ... where she was mostly terrified of him ... and she's with some other guy ... Geeze, stalker much. Gleb, buddy, I think it's time to reevaluate your relationships with women.

BWW Review: ANASTASIA at The Paramount Theatre
Brandon Delgado (Gleb) and Kyla Stone (Anya)
in Anastasia at the Paramount Theatre.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel

OK, so we have the most ineffectual and least imposing villain ever, what about the production? The performers have lovely voices. Stone belts out the Act One closer "Journey to the Past" with killer pipes and tons of heart. And the rest of the cast have wonderful voices and gorgeous dance training as well. But for some reason, they've been directed to ham it up whenever possible, mugging to the audience and affecting weird speech patterns or movements for laughs. I saw "Anastasia" when it was in New York and didn't recall it being that egregious, so I can't tell if this direction came from the original director, Darko Tresnjak, or the tour director, Sarah Hartmann. But whomever is responsible should be ashamed. What kind of show are you trying to do? Historical Drama? Romance? Because what I was mostly getting was over the top farce and that fits in this telling of the story as much as a wise cracking bat. But hey, the audience seemed to be eating it up so, congratulations?

With mostly forgettable numbers, a confusing book including an ending where all the main characters seem to toss aside their main purpose for being and driving goal for the past 10 years on a whim, and direction that seemed like it fit better in a burlesque show, there's little for me to recommend here. It's visually stunning with good voices and pretty dancing but that's it. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the tour of "Anastasia" at the Paramount a "c'mon Ahrens, Flaherty, and McNally, you're better than this" MEH-. The only journey to the past needed here was one so they could rethink their approach to this story,

"Anastasia" performs at the Paramount Theatre through January 30th. For tickets or information visit Seattle Theatre Group online at www.stgpresents.org.



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