Review: ‘Anastasia’ at the Broadhurst Theatre

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.

Christy Altomare in Anastasia. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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 The villainous character of Rasputin has been replaced by one called Gleb, who is less frightening and is strictly someone Mr.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.

Christy Altomare and Derek Klena in Anastasia. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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.

Anastasia plays at the Broadhurst Theatre – 235 West 44th Street, in New York, NY. For tickets, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, or purchase them online.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.


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