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BWW Review: ANASTASIA Journeys From Screen to Stage With Grace

BWW Review: ANASTASIA Journeys From Screen to Stage With Grace

In the last decade or so, musicals based on movies have become a regular occurrence. It seems like several new shows are opening each year, so it's not surprising that "Anastasia," Don Bluth's semi-unconventional take on a princess movie, made the transition - and thankfully, the end result maintains much of the magic of its source material.

Presented by Mirvish with Hartford Stage, ANASTASIA has made its Toronto premiere fittingly with the first lasting snowfall of the winter season. The musical, which is largely inspired by the 1997 animated film as well as historic events, explores the rumour, the legend, and the mystery surrounding the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov.

Legends claim that the youngest daughter of the last royal family of Imperial Russia might have escaped execution at the hands of revolutionaries, which is the basis for this story. After her family is killed, a young Anastasia ends up in a distant hospital suffering from amnesia, is dubbed Anya, and is sent into the world to fend for herself.

Fast forward ten years and she's a streetsweeper in Leningrad - formerly St. Petersburg - a newly reformed communist society. Desperate to discover her past, Anya (performed by understudy Taylor Quick) teams up with a stubborn conman named Dmitri (Jake Levy) and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer), a loveable former count, to learn how to become Anastasia, travel to Paris, reunite with her grandmother the Dowager Empress (Joy Franz), and collect the reward money - although that part of the plan is more for her male companions. Along the way, she's pursued by Gleb (performed by understudy Brad Greer), an officer whose father had a hand in the massacre of the royal family, and whose relationship with Anya creates an interesting dynamic and much-needed tension.

The entire cast is well-suited to their roles, and all undertake them with sincerity and passion. Quick has a natural youthfulness and innocence, and brings great power to iconic numbers like "Journey To The Past." Levy is charming, boyish, and performs wonderfully alongside Quick - their "In A Crowd of Thousands" is a departure from the more symphonic, grandiose numbers and is ultimately more effective because of the little details both actors sprinkle in throughout the entire production.

Staudenmayer is endlessly fun to watch, with a booming voice that matches his jovial approach to playing a mentor figure. Once teamed up with Vlad's former flame Lily (Tari Kelly), Staudenmayer and Kelly are an instant crowd-favourite; Kelly's dynamic voice and knack for comedy make her a highlight in the show, even with a late entry to the story. Greer's antagonistic Gleb is cool, calm and collected, and Greer does well in laying the groundwork for late revelations and plot points.

Hearing the iconic music (Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, who both worked on the film), both new and old sung by this cast and conducted by Lawrence Goldberg, is a thrill. However, Terrence McNally's book isn't the most compact work, and there are important moments in the story that don't get the time they need to breathe. An emotional family reunion is more of a confusing back and forth than anything, and a high-stakes confrontation spanning the entire show is resolved in seconds.

Costumes (Linda Cho) are gorgeous, most notably those of the royal family; Tsarina Alexandra's jewel-encrusted get-up alone is a masterpiece. Set design (Alexander Dodge) is minimal; rather than practical sets, large screens dominate the stage, framed with a multipurpose arch piece. The screens work to change settings quickly but prevent any scene from feeling grounded in a specific time and place.

It's not uncommon for fairy-tales to be based in dark themes and ideas, but for one as charming as ANASTASIA, the fact that it has transitioned from a successful film to an effective piece of musical theatre is impressive. The touring production might fall short in a few areas, but the strength of the performances - both on the stage and in the orchestra - can't be ignored.

Mirvish and Hartford Stage's ANASTASIA runs through January 12 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto, ON.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

Photo credit: Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade

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