As the theatre season races to the end of its nomination deadline for the Tony Awards, musical shows are exploding all over the place. We’ve had half a dozen in the last two weeks, and Anastasia squeezed in during one of them. It opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on April 24th and continued the current trend of musicalizing movies – one that must by now be near exhaustion. The writing credentials are impeccable: book by Terrence McNally and score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and the newer director Darko Tresnjak and Peggy Hickey were highly regarded for their work on A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.
Anastasia has some new material but is based on a combination of the Ingrid Bergman film and the 1994 animated cartoon musical, both released by 20th Century Fox. The animation cartoon had four songs by Ahrens and Flaherty; now it has fourteen more by the same team. The villainous character of Rasputin has been replaced by one called Gleb, who is less frightening and is strictly someone Mr. McNally felt was more useful to the slightly adjusted plot he’s assigned to this “new American musical”.
Its five major characters are beautifully cast. Christy Altomare is a welcome addition to the growing list of leading ladies. Derek Klena is moving quickly into a first rate alternate list of leading men. Ramin Karimloo, who has been working steadily in international regional theatres, brings great presence and a vibrant voice to the third corner of this romantic triangle by playing Gleb with conviction.
In support, Mary Beth Peil brings elegance and power to the best scene in the piece – the one in which the only surviving member of the Romanoff family, the Dowager Empress living in exile in Paris, meets with the young woman claiming to be her granddaughter, the lost Princess Anastasia. Caroline O’Connor adds another color entirely to the stately proceedings. As Countess Lily, aide to the Empress, she brings sauciness and a knowing way to “Land of Yesterday” and “The Press Conference”, adding spice to the second act.
For young people who’ve never seen either of the films or the play which inspired them both, it’s an okay introduction to the intriguing story. McNally has ended it inconclusively, but satisfactorily, by not wrapping it up in a neat little happy-ending bundle.
Production values are present; twirling dancers in white are most effective and very pretty to look at. Alexander Dodge’s scenery is attractive and functional, and Linda Cho’s costumes make Romanoff Russians most attractive. But the book, music and lyrics have a slightly uninspired feel to them, which greatly diminishes the impact of this musical melodrama. The original play by Marcelle Maurette, adapted by Guy Bolton, was produced in 1954 by Elaine Perry alone. It ran for over 250 performances.
If romance in another time and place (St. Petersburg and Paris from 1917 – 1927) is what you’re looking for in a musical, this one is faithful to its source, and it remains an intriguing story. The growing number of visitors to New York who flock to the varied musicals might well find nourishment at the Broadhurst with this attractive company.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.