The legend of ‘Anastasia’ endures and entrances
By Rich Fahey
BOSTON – It was, in some ways. putting the cart before the horse.
The 1997 film “Anastasia” is one of many animated films to find their way onto the stage. The songwriting team of lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty actually composed the songs for the film before the animation was even created, scoring an Oscar nomination for the show’s signature tune, “Journey to the Past.”
When the decision was made to adapt the film for the stage, it premiered at the Hartford Stage in 2016, spent two years on Broadway and now the North American tour of “Anastasia” is on stage at the Citizens Bank Opera House through Aug. 28
Ahrens and Flaherty took songs from the film and composed new songs for the musical but, to be frank, the score is not in a class with some of their others, most notably “Ragtime” and “Once on This Island,” memorably revived this spring by the Speakeasy Stage Company.
But, thanks to a strong book by the late Terrence McNally, some dazzling production values, and strong work from the principals, “Anastasia” received an enthusiastic welcome from an opening-night audience that included a large number of younger theatergoers, no doubt fans of the animated movie.
The musical was inspired by the story of the grand duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the youngest Romanov daughter, which spawned a legend that has repeatedly captured the public’s imagination.
During the Russian Revolution in 1918, much of the Romanov family, including Anastasia’s father Tsar Nicholas II, were killed by the Bolsheviks. But rumors swirled that Anastasia had escaped her family’s fate (“A Rumor in St. Petersburg”) and was still alive and in hiding.
Impostors popped up claiming to be the lost duchess, and the1956 film “Anastasia” starred Ingrid Bergman as an amnesia-stricken young woman who bears a striking resemblance to the duchess.
The stage musical brings audiences from the bloody end of the centuries of the Romanov’s rule to the bustle of Paris in the Roaring Twenties.
A street sweeping orphan named Anya (Kyla Stone) takes up with two con men, Dmitry (Sam McLellan) and Vlad (Bryan Seastrom), who hope to pass her off as the grand duchess in order to collect reward money.
That will mean convincing the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (Gerri Weagraff), Anastasia’s surviving grandmother now living in Paris, that she’s the real deal and not one of the many imposters that she is fending off. Meanwhile, Soviet officer Gleb (Brandon Delgado) relentlessly pursues Anya as a possible danger to the new order in Russia if she is indeed a Romanov, and is torn between his duty and the memory of his late soldier father and his sympathy for the young woman desperately trying to escape her poverty.
Seastrom is great fun as Vlad, a former count who was unceremoniously dumped from the Royal Court, who when he arrives in Paris returns to his former flame Countess Lily (a delightful Madeline Raube), the lady in waiting to the Dowager Empress and a possible entrée to the Dowager herself.
As Anya, Stone gives full voice to “Journey to the Past” and is luminous when she dons the blue ball gown and finally presents herself to the Dowager Empress as Anastasia, while McClellan as Dmitry, who has fallen for Anya and not her would-be identity, is strong in “Everything to Win.”
The production numbers under choreographer Bill Burns – the original choreography was by Peggy Hickey — are grand and glorious, aided by some sensational high-definition projections by Aaron Rhyne, an homage to the film version.
Ahrens in particular felt the pressure of trying, with the stage musical, to satisfy the huge fan base for the movie, and in an interview with the Boston Globe, explained the legend’s enduring appeal a century after the events in question.
“It’s a classic fairytale about a lost princess who’s trying to find out whether or not she’s really a princess,” Ahrens said. “[She’s] a young woman on a journey of self-discovery from not knowing who the heck you are at all to finding your strength, finding your voice, and in the end finding who you’re related to, what your roots actually are, and your place in the world.”
The legend still entrances, and this production is a lovely musical spectacle which should satisfy fans both young and old of the 1956 film and the 1997 animated film.
The national touring production of “Anastasia.” Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Book by Terrence McNally. Directed by Sarah Hartmann. Original direction by Darko Tresnjak. Presented by Broadway in Boston. At Citizens Bank Opera House, Aug. 17-28. Tickets from $44.50. www.broadwayinboston.com