Anyone who knows me knows that I love the Kennedy Center. I find any possible excuse to go to an event there. The caliber of performers and shows they bring are always astounding – and don’t get me started on the free shows EVERY DAY of the year. I can say with full conviction that Anastasia was no different.
Anastasia is a historical fiction retelling of the Grand Duchess Anastasia who survives a brutal attack on the Russian Tsar’s Palace that kills the rest of her family and ends the Russian royal rule in 1917. Ten years later we are introduced to Dmitry and Vlad, two con men who want to “reunite” the lost Duchess Anastasia with the Dowager Empress residing in Paris, so that they can claim the monetary reward. Their ideal candidate to play Anastasia is Anya, an orphaned amnesiac who is running towards Paris for a reason she cannot explain, but knows someone is waiting there for her.
The Broadway musical premiered in 2017, just in time for the 20th Anniversary of the 1997 movie adaption from Twentieth Century Fox, upon which the musical is based. The musical adaption of Anastasia keeps the powerful storyline and captivating music from the movie and adds in the magical qualities only a live performance can create.
Lila Coogan’s Anya/Anastasia was equal parts emotionally vulnerable and fearless woman in search of her past. Stephen Brower’s Dmitry was as gentlemanly and crushable as animated Dmitry was to my pre-teen self. Joy Franz presented an impeccably regal Dowager Empress who was an exact translation from the animated character. Even Jason Michael Evan’s portrayal of Gleb, the Bolshevik officer sent to capture Anya, had me sympathizing with the story’s big bad. (One of the main differences between the musical and the ‘97 movie production is that Bolshevik revolutionaries replace the movie’s mystical baddie, Rasputin.)
Producing musicals in a digital age creates the opportunity for incorporating technology in innovative ways. The majority of the backdrop was a large projection that transported the audience from the historic streets of St. Petersburg (ahem, Leningrad) to the romantic streets and bridges of Paris. The projections were surprisingly detailed and realistic, and created a depth to the theater that wouldn’t have been feasible with traditional sets. While all the costumes helped set the scene, the costuming for the Romanovs was particularly befitting for the Russian Royal family, resplendent, but not gaudy.
The opening scenes were reminiscent of the Nutcracker’s opening Party Scene, with Russian royalty replacing Tchaikovsky’s holiday dancers during a snowy Russian night. (If you’re looking for a holiday alternative to the Nutcracker, Anastasia would be a good option.) Anya’s metamorphosis into the Grand Duchess Anastasia reminded me of My Fair Lady, and even the song and dance at the Neva Club during Act II had a distinctly Cabaret feel to it. For me, a sign of a good musical is when it has me reflecting on other great performances.
Anastasia will be at the Kennedy Center through November 25, and this musical goer highly recommends that you get your tickets before it leaves the District. In the meanwhile, you can catch me listening to the Broadway soundtrack on repeat.
Final Grade: A-