Anastasia 👸 Theatre Review

Written by Thelonia

When visiting friends and family come to New York City, it is a time honored tradition of finding something to see on Broadway. It can get a bit complicated to accommodate everyone's tastes at once (are we going for sad? light-hearted? indie darlings? the big shows?). Luckily, if you're hosting twenty year old girls who like Disney Princesses, you currently have a pretty good selection to choose from (well, if you count two big Broadway shows a good selection, which I am, so), and so, once upon a December, I got to see Anastasia (the Broadway Musical)!  And was torn between nostalgic love, a good fun musical, and a lot of confusion as to how to feel politically.

The musical follows the plot (with added scenes and songs) of the 1997 animated movie on which it is mostly based, following a young orphan girl named Anya (who was found by the side of the road as a child and has no memories of her past, but surprise, she's Anastasia, this is not actually a surprise) and two con artists in St. Petersburg who are looking for a girl to train to pretend to be Anastasia, the last of the Romanovs, so they can swindle her Grandmother for cash.

Like the movie, Anastasia (the musical) starts with the royal family partying it up big, right before the Revolution strikes. In the film, the Revolution is a musty looking Rasputin, in the musical it is the red screen of Communism come to get the Romanovs.

The very first piece of music that plays is a short version of the musical's main theme "Once Upon a December," arguably the best remembered song from the film. A huge part of the play, and one that is particularly difficult given the present political climate is the necessary sympathy you are supposed to feel in regards to the royal family (whomst, and I hate to get That Way™, but the royal family were idiots with bad genes who hoarded money and at least deserved to be tossed out of power).

In my rational mind I know that they couldn't help being born into stupid amounts of wealth, but there are moments where the plot leans dangerously close to "Marie Antoinette was the true victim of the French Revolution, not those people dying of hunger while the royalty partied hard in their shit covered golden palace" territory.

The musical does its best to balance out the plot, removing the supernatural antagonist from the film (Rasputin, whose disembodied head I had been wondering how they were going to recreate on stage), and creating a bolchevik beaurocrat (named 'Gleb' sadly) to replace him as antagonist as our Javert, hunting down Anya across Europe (though he's in love with her the entire time, which, depending on your interpretation of the Les Mis musical, or even the original brick, isn't that far from the Javert/Valjean dynamic).

Also he's played by Ramin Karimloo, who was out when I went to see it, so, still slightly bitter about that.

Though some of his early attention to Anya veers dangerously close to "step away from the girl, dude" territory, it's kind of clear after a bit that he's just kind of awkward and he doesn't have bad intentions towards her, although that changes once he finds out she's a Romanov, because we need third act tension. The last act has less to do with Anya convincing her grandmother she is in fact Anastasia, and more with Gleb's quest to kill the last of the Romanovs, because if she lives then The Revolution will fall.

Of course, while that plot looms over in the distance, a good chunk of the main stage time is dedicated to Anya's training and her growing romance with poor boy, have we mentioned he's poor and she's a princess, Dmitri. It's cute! Like really, even though they don't spend that much time building it, it's a believable relationship, and they're cute together. And if you think they didn't get Dmitri into his stupid raglan shirt thing from the end of the movie by the end of the musical WELL YOU HAVE ANOTHER THING COMING TO YOU, BUDDY.

Couldn't find a picture of it, but BELIEVE ME IT'S THERE.

Other special mentions go to the other supporting characters, namely Anya's Grandmother (played by Mary Beth Peil), who legitimately looked exhausted and whose stage presence made her feel like the last of a dynasty, with all the baggage that that entailed.

Shout out as well to John Bolton and Caroline O'Connor, who play Vlad (Dmitri's conman pal) and the Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch respectively, who do a good job at being the supporting comedic relief in a story that falls a lot into sad Russia times, especially in the first act. By Act II, we've made it to Paris and things get a lot brighter and thanks to Vlad and Lily's hijinks, we finally have some songs that are clearly just meant as fun pauses between the rest of the plot.

If anything I must give them props for that 3 minute long kiss they held while the audience clapped.

In between all of this, it would be very to get lost, but Christy Altomare, though so, so small, lives up to the challenge and manages to stick out amongst the other voices, which is helped by her big, big voice, and great dresses (but only in Act II, in Act I she wears a really comfy looking huge sweater/huge skirt combo, which I would like in my wardrobe now).

Also, if you think the audience didn't clap at the dress reveal then YOU ARE A FOOL.

While I'll always be a bit sad I didn't get to see a bunch of tiny worm puppets bob along to "In the Dark of the Night" (a true bop from the original animated movie), Anastasia remains a fun musical which tries to plant its feet in history, even if its fantastical elements remain ever-present (despite the lack of immortal ghouls). Check it out if you're a fan of the original movie, musicals, or Disney Princesses, though if you know too much about Russian history, you may feel yourself grating against the anachronism of it all.

Anastasia is currently on Broadway.


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