Kyla Stone Anya & Company in Anastasia. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Book by Terrance McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
A review by Tory Parker
Entire contents are copyright © by 2022 Tory Parker. All rights reserved.
The North American tour of Anastasia might share the name of the 1997 20th Century Fox animated classic, but don’t be fooled—this is a new musical, merely “inspired” by the 1997 20th Century Fox animated classic, and the font on the title treatment is about where the similarities end.
This sparkly expedition into early 20th century Russia and Paris keeps six of the songs from the animated movie, adapting them for the new book by Broadway legend Terrance McNally and adding sixteen new, original numbers from Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, who wrote the originals as well. The trio worked together on Ragtime in 1998, but have many a theatre credit to them individually and are all subsequent giants in their field. This really forces you to reckon with the question—is this Anastasia stage musical bad, or is it just not the movie?
I’m going to (I think correctly) work off the assumption that virtually everyone headed to see Anastasia in Louisville has seen the 1997 movie. Judging by the full-enough house of guests of all ages, that film has maintained a certain universal appeal. And the team behind this new musical Anastasia is counting on that. But like a child tricked into eating vegetables by sneaking them into V8 juice, I was lured into this show with the promise of magic, laughs, and a campy villain and was met with…communism.
The production falls victim to the same twisted mentality that has created the live-action Disney films. (We all know the real reason.) The reason given at press junkets is to give “depth” to these animated stories, to “go deeper” with the characters. But somehow it always ends up just longer and less colorful. The stage production of Anastasia replaces the delightfully over-the-top Rasputin with a stoic, ham-fistedly “nuanced” comrade named Gleb (Yes, Gleb) on a Javert-adjacent hunt for Anya (nee the Grand Duchess Anastasia). Gleb’s father was one of the gunmen responsible for the brutal murder of the Romanov family. The show regularly reminds us of the gruesome killing of the royal family and the starvation and economic destitution of the Russian people under the Communist Party. For the kids!
In so many ways, this is a beautiful show. The projections are stunning, the costumes are glorious, and the cast is made up of incredibly talented young people who can sing, dance, and act better than I could ever write about theatre. I was lucky enough to see Victoria Madden in the titular role—Victoria is typically in the ensemble, and the show’s Dance Captain. God knows how many tracks of this show she does wonderfully. She was fabulous, seamless, and a joy to watch, as were Sam McLellan as Dmitry, Bryan Seastrom as Vlad, and Ben Endquist as Gleb. Madeline Raube as Lily (a character named Sophie in the film) took the energy in the room from a 5 to a 10. Some of the songs you know and love are still just as good as you recall, several of them have a bit of a facelift. And there are a couple—notably, “Stay, I Pray You,” a haunting farewell to home, and “Land of Yesterday,” a campy, nostalgic ode to home—that really stand out.
But the show leaves us wondering: who exactly is this for? The nuances of the good or bad of the communists vs. royalists, the lack of magic or supernatural, the addition of a plethora of sexually suggestive jokes (and whole musical numbers) means young kids, usually the market for a big musical based on an animated movie, are a bit lost. The sharp turn away from the film means millennials who grew up with the film aren’t familiar with this new, darker version. And for people completely new to the story and characters, this splashy new version is not quite strong enough to win you over.
Which leads me to think, this is a show for people who like to go out and see musicals. They’re singing! They’re dancing! Often all at once! There are so many sparkles and twirling skirts, accentuated by jaw dropping projection design and carried beautifully by an incredibly talented cast and crew. If you need a good night out at a well done production, put on your nice threads, go out to eat downtown, and get a ticket to Anastasia. And then come home, put on your PJs, get some popcorn, and watch the movie.
August 2 -7, 2022
Broadway in Louisville
Kentucky Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Tory Parker is originally from West Virginia, graduated from Centre College, and now works in marketing at the Waterfront Botanical Gardens. In Louisville, she’s worked and performed with Claddagh Theatre Company, the Chamber Theatre, Bellarmine University, Wayward Actors Company, Derby City Playwrights, Company Outcast and director Emily Grimany. As a playwright, her original works appeared in the National Women’s Theatre Festival in their 2020 and 2021 Fringe Festivals.