Journey to the Broadhurst for Spectacular Stage Musical “Anastasia”

Journey to the Broadhurst for Spectacular Stage Musical “Anastasia”

(Center) John Bolton as Vlad, Caroline O'Connor as Countess Lily and the ensemble of "Anastasia" (©Matthew Murphy)

One of the most famous songs from “Anastasia” is “Journey to the Past,” which is exactly what this new Broadway musical took me on. A longtime fan of the animated film of the same name from 1997, I definitely expected to enjoy this stage version. And I did… oooooh, I did.

Though the stage musical does not follow the exact plot of the movie, several songs made the transition, as did many of the main characters and some of the most cherished visual sequences (“Once Upon a December” is just as haunting and magical as ever, I promise). But this stage adaptation brings with it over a dozen brand new songs, a different bad guy—so long Rasputin and hello Gleb Vaganov (Ramin Karimloo), a Bolshevik general with daddy issues—and a deeper look into the fall of the Romanov family. At its core, though, “Anastasia” is still very much about a young woman’s courageous quest to remember who she was and discover who she is, all while learning that there is home, love and family outside of blood relations.

The music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty expand upon their already catchy numbers from the animated film and add even more memorable tunes that will surely be played on repeat once folks get hold of the Broadway cast album. My personal favorite is the new Anya and Dmitry duet, “In a Crowd of Thousands,” because this song provides deeper backstory and a shared sense of vulnerability for both characters. I also loved the digital projections used throughout the show to reflect the various St. Petersburg and Paris locations like the Eiffel Tower! Terrence McNally's book is engaging and heartfelt, giving depth to these characters we haven't seen before. 

It is the cast, though, who truly help make this story come to life. Christy Altomare shines as Anya, taking great care with this character to highlight Anya’s determination and compassion. Altomare’s genuine connection to this role and show is evident in her performance, making it all the easier to root for Anya and be just as excited for her as she makes her journey forward to find what out what has been left behind. Derek Klena’s portrayal of Anya’s mischievious ticket to Paris-turned-confidant, Dmitry, is more complex than a typical love interest, but just as swoon-worthy. What I love most about this character is that Dmitry cares—he may start out as a man looking for reward money, but his journey is just as powerful as Anya’s and Klena’s honest and earnest performance is well deserving of the boyband-level screams he got during the curtain call of the performance I attended.

As much as I enjoyed Anya and Dmitry and the actors who play them, I was beyond enamored with the Vlad (John Bolton) and Countess Lily (Caroline O’Connor) sequences. Bolton and O’Connor share impecible comedic timing and are a perfect on-stage pair. It was a real privilege finally seeing O’Connor perform in person and her leading of the ensemble in “Land of Yesterday,” followed by her duet with Bolton (“The Countess and the Common Man”), brought the entire audience such happiness. And Mary Beth Peil as the Dowager Empress—talk about royalty! This seasoned star of stage and screen completely brought heart and humanity to this regal woman and gave the show an extra dash of elegance.

While I missed the conflict from the animated film between Anya and the mystical Rasputin, the addition of Gleb grounded the stage version with a more realistic depiction of what was going on with Russian politics in the early 1900s. With a menacingly authoritative presence, Karimloo weaves Gleb’s turmoil—with regard to his perceptions of Anya, as well as his duties as a Bolshevik general— in such a way that allows the audience to empathize with the “bad guy” in a way they might not have otherwise.

Seeing “Anastasia” on Broadway is a magical theatergoing experience for audiences of all ages. Even with a built-in audience of fans from the film (lovingly referred to as “Fanastasias”), “Anastasia” will equally capture the hearts of those who might not be as familiar with the musical because this stage show stands on its own and stands tall. This show is a love story on multiple levels and I was on board for all of them—I can’t wait to journey back to the theater to see it again!

“Anastasia” is playing at the Broadhurst Theatre (235 W. 44th St., btw Seventh & Eighth aves.). Get your tickets here!!

Christy Altomare as Anya and Derek Klena (kneeling) as Dmitry in "Anastasia" (©Matthew Murphy)

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