One of my all time favorite movies as a child, and even to this day, is Don Bluth and Gary Goldman’s 1997 animated film, “Anastasia.” When I was a little, I wanted nothing more than to be a princess as I danced and screamed my way through the classic and catchy soundtrack of this film. So, after buying tickets for the Fairfield University Student Association’s Nov. 8 trip to see “Anastasia” on Broadway, I was elated. Based on the 1997 film, this Broadway adaptation takes a new, enthralling and original spin on the iconic movie.
The 2017 Tony nominated musical follows the legend of the real life Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, who was rumored to have escaped the execution of her family during the 1917 Bolshevik rising (unfortunately the real Anastasia died). In the musical, set 10 years after the execution of the Romanov family, young conman Dmitry (Zach Adkins) and ex-member of the Imperial Court, Vlad Popov (John Bolton), hear rumors about Anastasia’s survival and plan to pull the “biggest con in history.” The duo hold auditions for young women to try-out for the role of Anastasia so they can snag a reward from the Dowager Empress (Judy Kaye), Anastasia’s grieving grandmother living in Paris. As Dmitry and Vlad hold their auditions, they come across a street sweeper named Anya (Christy Altomare), who physically resembles Anastasia. As they train Anya to become Anastasia, Gleb Vaganov (Max von Essen), a Bolshevik general, attempts to stop them. However, as Anya, Dmitry and Vlad make their journey to Paris, Anya’s mysterious past comes into question as the trio attempt to find some sort of happy ending.
The entire plot of the musical definitely differed from the 1997 film, which centred more around magic and the evil warlock Rasputin, who is trying to wipe-out the last of the Romanov family. To begin with, the musical was more historically accurate than the film. In the musical, Anastasia is the same age the real life princess would have been when she “disappeared.” The events also follow the downfall of Imperial Russia and its transition into the Soviet Union. Building off of that, the main villain of the film is a communist general who earns redemption in the end. “Anastasia” deals with a lot of real, human and historical topics of the time period. One of these topics even includes immigration. When Anya, Dmitry and Vlad leave Russia they sing “Stay, I Pray You,” a song which deals with leaving one’s homeland behind forever. This song is performed with a bunch of other Russian characters who are fleeing the communist country, singing about how they will love and miss their country, despite its downfall.
The Broadway play includes a great deal of the original songs from the 1997 film, such as “Once Upon a December,” “Learn to Do it,” “Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart),” “Journey to the Past” and “A Rumor in St. Petersburg” but the creators added their own twists to the lyrics and made them more original and fitting for the musical. There are also a ton of fantastic new songs such as “The Neva Flows,” “My Petersburg,” “Crossing a Bridge” and “Land of Yesterday.” Personally, my favorite was “In a Crowd of Thousands.” In this duet between Dmitry and Anya, Dmitry recalls his first encounter with Anastasia as a young boy and that’s when Anya realizes she holds the same memory of seeing a boy racing towards her “in a crowd of thousands.” The song is a very powerful and emotional ballad between the two actors as they recall a more innocent time.
The characters were also very fleshed out and real in that they had grounding and solid personalities. I very much enjoyed how Vlad was a huge comedic relief throughout the play. I especially enjoyed his dynamic with Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevich (Vicki Lewis), a friend of the Grand Duchess who knew Vlad when he was part of the court. The comedy, and even the dialogue in general, was very well done and natural. It didn’t feel too forced and was easy to follow along.
As for the costumes and overall stage production, they were both phenomenal. The various dresses Anya changes into are breathtaking. From a simple peasant dress to a glamorous gown fit for a royal, each was absolutely stunning. Another stunning outfit was worn by Tsarina Alexandra (Lauren Blackman), Anastasia’s mother. It was made of a million jewels and was absolutely beautiful.
The stage used a screen as a background, which allowed various different incredible images to appear throughout the performance. The graphics and images they used for these backgrounds really made it feel like the actors were where they were supposed to be, from communist St. Petersburg (renamed Leningrad at the time), to a booming 1927 Paris. There were even amazing little things added, like Russian snow flurrying all around, to vibrant, French cherry blossoms. One of my favorite scenes though, which technology played a huge part in, was when Anya sings “Once Upon a December.” In that scene, Anya’s memories come flooding back to her and, as she tries to process these thoughts, projections of dancing ghost-like figures begin to float throughout the walls of the Broadhurst Theatre. It made that moment so much more magical and spectacular.
At the end of Nov. 8 performance, the cast got together for a special, first time performance of a song from the 1997 film that is not in the musical. Even though online editor-in-chief Gracianne Eldrenkamp ‘20, one of the people who attended the event with me, kept chanting for Rasputin’s (Christopher Lloyd speaking, Jim Cummings singing) song “In the Dark of the Night,” Altomare and Adkins ended up singing Richard Marx and Donna Lewis’ credit duet “At the Beginning.” I was personally happy as this is one of my favorite songs from the film, but, despite that, Altomare and Adkins gave a beautiful and passionate rendition of the song as they attempted to get members of the audience to donate to Broadway Cares, a non-profit for the prevention of AIDS.
Overall, it was an amazing event. “Anastasia” was one of the best film-musical adaptations I’ve seen. I felt as if it was original enough from the film it was based off of to stand out, but also kept to it’s favorite, classic roots. I think as a stand alone it was entertaining and kept my attention the entire time. Not only that, but the actors were very passionate about everything they did and made the overall experience magical for the entire audience. It’s a definitely must see and I plan on, hopefully, seeing it again.