I saw the the 1997 animated film of Anastasia in the movie theatre at the time of its release but to be honest, I remember very little about it. Not surprising as I haven’t seen it in nearly 25 years. This Broadway musical differs from the Disney model of animated films transferred to the stage in that, while yes it has its origins in the animated film, it really only uses that as a springboard on which they have built of mostly original work. They kept about six of the songs from the film and have added about twenty new songs. I remember the film had Rasputin in it, but the stage show has removed him as the antagonist. All that’s by way of saying, don’t come expecting the film transported to the stage, come open to a new telling of the legend of a lost princess of the Russian Empire. But whether you are a fan of the animated film or the earlier film starring Ingrid Bergman or not, you’ll probably have a great night at the theatre with this charming musical.
All of these stories are based on the story of Anna Anderson a mentally ill woman who claimed to be Anastasia. She wasn’t but those rumors persisted and thus we have these fantasies. In this version we see a young Anastasia and her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, at their last meeting. Anastasia is her grandmother’s favorite and she is given a music box as a parting gift. The Dowager Empress is leaving for Paris and talks to her granddaughter about seeing her therein the future. That visit is never meant to be, prevented by the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. Where it is thought that the Czar and all of his children were executed. But rumors begin that the princess Anastasia survived and her Grandmother has offered a reward if she is reunited with her in Paris. Two con men Vlad, who was once at court before the fall of the empire, and the young and handsome Dmitry cook up a plan to find a young woman they can pass off as Anastasia. They team up with a young amnesiac named Anya who is being drawn to Paris by memories she cannot quite recover. As Dmitry and Vlad begin to drill her on the facts of the Romanovs, they are surprised by the things she says that they hadn’t told her yet. As our trio heads off to Paris they must elude the new Russia personified by General Gleb. Glebs father as it turns out, was one of the soldiers who executed the Romanovs and his orders from above are to finish his father’s work. Along the way Dmitry begins to fall in love with Anya and also believes she really is the lost princess. But as Vlad points out, if the Dowager Empress believes she is Anastasia, Dmitry will never be able to see her again.
The cast does an excellent job with the songs and there are a lot of them. I frequently have a little trouble at the Orpheum understanding the lyrics, but that wasn’t the case tonight at all. The cast and the orchestra were perfectly balanced and all the performers sang with perfect clarity. Sam McLellan as Dmitry and Kyla Stone as Anya sell the burgeoning love of their characters particularly in the song “In a Crowd of Thousands”. Vlad played by Bryan Seastrom and his love interest Countess Lily who is the Dowager Empress’ lady in waiting played by Madeline Raube, have a great little song together “the Countess and the Common Man”. Raube in particular in that and in the preceding song “Land of Yesterday” shines with a great voice and the ability to play the humor in the lyrics as well. The strongest voice and performer in the cast though was Brandon Delgado as Gleb. He plays the villian, but a conflicted one who believes in his cause but also secretly loves Anya himself. He gets a great moment towards the end of Act I with the song “Still”.
The true star of this show though is the Projection Design by Aaron Rhyne. The set is basically some panels on which projections create the majority of the set. There was a three to four minute stretch at the beginning of the show when it looked like there was a technical malfunction happening. I was worried the show was going to be marred by red laser beams breaking through the backgrounds. But that cleared up and from then on the effects were really superb. I’m usually a little disappointed when I see a production is going to rely heavily of projection for it’s set design. I like my sets practical for the most part, but this show did an amazing job with it’s digital design. In fact, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing in the beginning until the technical glitch revealed the truth. The perspective graphics that come up at times are truly mind blowing. Anastasia’s book is by Theater Hall of Famer Terrence McNally with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music Stephen Flaherty.
The show is marketed as if it’s another Frozen, but this isn’t for little kids. Older kids I’d say 12 and above depending on their interest level would probably enjoy it. The younger ones are going to get bored as there isn’t a singing snowman in sight. Also beware it does run about 2 hours and 45 minutes, so that should probably rule out taking anyone too young. Anastasia works great for adults though, don’t let the inspired by the animated classic fool you. It’s more historical romance than animated antics. The tour is in town through December 19th and there will be a special Kids Night on Hennepin event on Wednesday, Dec. 15 with a special 50% off ticket offer. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/