Will you be swept up into the legend of Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia? When her family was executed during the Russian Revolution, the rumor spread that Anastasia somehow survived. The story has been portrayed in numerous films and now with the show’s book written by Terrence McNally, we are given a new treatment that questions whether Anya, a young amnesiac, could actually be the Royal Empress Anastasia.
The Kennedy Center’s production, directed by Darko Tresnjak, is inspired by the 20th Century Fox animated film from 1997 which earned Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song “Journey to the Past” and Best Original Musical Score. The music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Once on This Island, The Kennedy Center’s world premiere of Little Dancer) are highlights of the production. The music of Anastasia is as beautiful as the period costumes by Linda Cho; the lyrics are witty and the use of tech for lighting and set design are as spectacular as one can hope for in a national tour.
Projection Design by Aaron Rhyne is nothing short of brilliant. The background projections are animated perfectly to support the characters’ actions while melding seamlessly with the stage lighting by Donald Holder. Scene changes use modern wizardry that suggests the glorious extravagance of Imperialist Russian Operas and Parisian nightclubs. Fans of the 90’s film will see neither Rasputin nor bats in this production, but some of the music and storyline do carry over from that earlier version.
Lila Coogan sings and portrays Anya beautifully. Her duet with the Dowager Empress (Joy Franz) to the tune from a music box, “Once Upon a December,” is a recurring motif. Aside from the music box, there are many clues that Anya knows more than the facts she is taught by the two conmen trying to pass her off as the lost Empress. The Dowager Empress, who hasn’t seen her granddaughter in years, is heartbroken by the recurrent stream of young women presenting themselves to her as her sole surviving heir. The song “Journey to the Past” not only shows Coogan’s range but supports a dramatic shift with a spectacular reveal upon her arrival at the City of Lights.
Of the pair of conmen who bring Anya to Paris, Dmitry (Stephen Brower) shifts from his criminally-jaded attitude to distinctly different feelings for Anya during the lovely duet, “My Petersburg.” Dmitry’s partner, Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer) provides the musical’s laughs along with his reunited love interest, Countess Lily (delightfully portrayed by Tari Kelly). Their “Countess and the Common Man” is very funny and follows up on her leading the ensemble in “Land of Yesterday,” a fun dance romp, exploring the vodka-driven escapism of Russian emigres and former aristocrats in 1920s Paris. The beauty of the music and spectacle and the talent of the cast make Anastasia a musical that shouldn’t be missed.
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one 20-minute intermission.