What young girl (or grown woman) hasn’t dreamt that she’s actually royalty? That fantasy is one reason the story of Anastasia Romanov – the daughter of the last Russian tsar, and who may or may not have been killed during the 1917 revolution – has fascinated authors, playwrights and audiences for many decades. And for the last 20 years, this particular fairy tale has been kept alive by the popular animated film musical “Anastasia”, which serves as the basis for the lavish Broadway musical “Anastasia,” now at the Broadhurst Theatre.
While this new version is a tad too overstuffed, both in terms of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ score (which features about a dozen additions to the few marvelous numbers from the film) and Terrence McNally’s too-complex-for-tweens book, the result is still the kind of satisfying, family-friendly fare of which Broadway is always in too short supply.
McNally’s intelligent script hews in many ways to its predecessor: Anya (the appealing Christy Altomare, rather reminiscent of a younger Kristen Bell), a poor young Russian woman suffering from amnesia, is recruited by two essentially good-hearted, small-time conmen, Dmitry (the handsome if altogether bland Derek Klena) and Vlad (an absolutely delightful, properly colorful John Bolton), to impersonate Anastasia. Why? They plan to bring her to Paris to meet her still-living grandmother, the Dowager Empress (a truly brilliant Mary Beth Peil, both steely and heartbreaking) and collect a sizeable reward. But during the course of their tutelage, Anya begins to recall fragments of the past, becoming ever more convinced that she truly is the former Grand Duchess.
Conversely, McNally’s biggest departure from the film is to create conflict in the form of Gleb (the charismatic Ramin Karimloo, singing as gorgeously as ever), a dour Russian government official who meets Anya on the street, is clearly attracted to her, but who is ultimately ordered to kill her as an enemy of the new state. (For psychological good measure, Gleb’s father helped murder all the Romanovs.) Sadly, this whole subplot turns out to be really unnecessary, as the big question on everyone’s mind is not whether Gleb will kill Anastasia, but whether Anastasia will be accepted by the Dowager Empress.
McNally has also enlarged the role of the Empress’ lady-in-waiting, the Countess Lily, turning her into splendid comic relief –especially as portrayed by the deliciously daffy Caroline O’Connor. Her lively duet with her former lover Vlad, “The Countess and the Common Man,” is great fun, and a nice break from Ahrens and Flaherty’s ballad-heavy score. (That said, their best ballads here – such as “Once Upon a December,” “Journey to the Past”, and “Close the door” – are simply beyond reproach.)
Tony Award winner Darko Tresnjak has directed the show with a very steady hand, rarely allowing the pace to lag over two-and-a-half hours or the focus to go too far astray. He might have encouraged some more inventive choreography from Peggy Hickey, but the rest of the creative team -- most notably costume designer Linda Cho and projection designer Aaron Rhyne (who is basically responsible for the show’s visual sense alongside scenic designer Alexander Dodge) – execute their jobs beautifully.
If you have a young daughter, you’ll probably be rushin’ to catch this Russian-themed extravaganza. I wouldn’t worry. Whether or not the real Anastasia died in her teens, this musical will likely have a long life on the Great White Way.
By Brian Scott Lipton
Visit the Site
Christy Altomare, Derek Klena, Ramin Karimloo, John Bolton, Caroline O'Connor, Mary Beth Peil
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/23/2017
235 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036