Review: Anastasia, starring Christy Altomare
A rumor of a princess who survived the firing squad that killed her parents, sisters, and brother. That is the beginning of the new musical Anastasia.
The title character is played by Christy Altomare, who's previous credits include playing Sophie in Mamma Mia. Her companions are Dimitri and Vlad, played by Derek Klena and John Bolton. The main villain, is different from the animated film and is a new character named Gleb, played by Ramin Karimloo. Other cast members include Caroline O'Connor, Nicole Scimeca, and Mary Beth Peil.
Two of the show's scene stealers are John Bolton as Vlad and Caroline O'Connor. The pair have wonderful chemistry onstage and are quite funny in certain scenes. They manage to make the audience feel like they've been let in on an inside joke and do a fantastic job portraying their characters. One of the standout song in the show as well, is "Land of Yesterday". O'Connor gives a fantastic performance, helping to demonstrate (along with the ensemble) how Russians long for the land of yesterday when royalty ruled Russia.
Mary Beth Peil gives a fantastic performance as the Dowager Empress (Anastasia's grandmother). She is absolutely regal in every sense of the word and she does a marvelous job portraying the old woman who has lost everything she loves.
Altomare's voice is one of the most memorable from the show, specifically with two of the most well known numbers "Once Upon a December" and "Journey to the Past". Some of the music was included in the original animated film while others were added for the stage musical. The music and lyrics are by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who are very well known for Once on this Island which is being revived this fall.
Another standout from the show are the ballet dancers when the characters are watching Swan Lake. They are absolutely fantastic dancers and for anyone who likes ballet, it is one of the highlights of the show. Additionally Nicole Scimeca who plays 6 year old Anastasia and Alexei Romanov is a highlight of the show. Her voice is very clear and she speaks with the stage presence of a seasoned actor.
Clever set design helps to carry the show through the years as there are different Anastasia's and new settings. The back of the set is moving images that correspond to where the characters are, that transport you into the scene. Additionally, turning walls help change the scene which is very cleverly done. Projections are also used to create ghosts of the Romanov empire dance across the stage and through the theatre.
One of the best scenes in the entire show is when Gleb has found Anya/Anastasia in Paris and is about to finish the job his father started and kill the last Romanov, as by this point she has come to believe that she is truly Anastasia. On one side of the windowed wall, Anya backs up as Gleb points a gun at her, and on the other side, the Tsar, Tsarina, and their children back up as a firing squad points guns as them. As Gleb drops his pistol, the firing squad lowers their weapons, and Anya and the Romanov family moves away. The mirror image comparing Anya then to her and her family 10 years earlier is a beautiful and moving comparison.
The show is additionally filled with little historical details for the history buff. At the beginning, a teenage Anastasia dances with her little brother Alexei. When he falls, everyone stops and rushes to help him. While this may make little sense to some people, historically Alexei Romanov was a very frail child and could be hurt very, very easily.
Overall, Anastasia is a sweet show, with one or two memorable songs and several heart-wrenching scenes. I would recommend it to anyone who's a fan of the original film, or who enjoys the music of Ahrens and Flaherty. Terrence McNally's book is well done and the dialogue helps to keep the story moving, though it can be slow at times. It is a show anyone of any age or gender can appreciate for it's story and music for long after they exit the theater.
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