If you didn’t know better, and most moviegoers wouldn’t, you’d think the “Anastasia” family was a Disney musical. It has the romance, the twinkle, the Cinderella story of an amnesiac girl who finds out (or maybe not) that she is a Grand Duchess from a prominent Russian family. It has a Disney-like story and a Disney-like musical score.
But the Broadway musical was inspired by 20th Century Fox’s 1997 song-filled animated film. There’s a fine pedigree behind “Anastasia,” the musical, with a book by the Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, and music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (“Ragtime” and “Once On This Island”.)
It is loosely based on the story of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, allegedly murdered by a group of Bolsheviks, a faction of Marxists, in 1918.
Curtain up and the family of Tsar Nicolas II enjoys the luxurious life of his palace. A young Anastasia Nikolaevna says goodbye to her grandmother who is leaving for Paris. Shortly after he leaves, there is an explosion. The lighting stains the windows blood red. The family is wiped out, including supposedly Anastasia.
By the way, it’s a little unsettling to see the Russians shelling while a war is raging nearly 6,000 miles away in Ukraine. Russia is now decimating the streets with bombs and missiles. It adds reality to this fairy tale and makes your heart broken for Ukrainians even more, as this story revolves around the sadness of those who have lost so much, including loved ones, due to a war .
But back to the story. Could Anastasia somehow have survived? There’s a street sweeper in Leningrad who a hospital nurse named Anya when she couldn’t remember who she was. Could it be so?
There are also two tricksters who seek to return Anastasia to her grandmother for a princely sum, and a villain whose father killed everyone in the Tsar’s family but one. He must be the good son who finishes the job.
Each cast member of the “Anastasia” touring cast, which is at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, has their hearts and souls invested.
Kyla Stone as Anya is beautiful and bright-eyed. The delightful way the character is written is the reason to fall in love with Stone, and it also helps make it happen. Of course, why wouldn’t the princess have the best songs on the show? The first act closer to “Journey to the Past” is enchanting to say the least, and Stone brings the house down with it.
Sam McLellan as Dmitry, one of the two men in the scam, who, of course, ends up in love with the street sweeper-turned-princess, has a gosh-gee way about him that’s filled with sympathy. And, he has a great vocal range to match.
Comic relief comes in the form of Bryan Seastrom as Vlad and the lady-in-waiting he left behind and returns, Countess Lily (Madeline Raube), up the hilarity in Act II. Act II also has a built-in Russian ballet where the ensemble members are absolutely flawless in a version of “Swan Lake.”
Quite a villain, but one with a soft spot is Brandon Delgado, as the Bolshevik general, Gleb. Delgado’s voice is impeccable. He’s a trained opera singer, and it shows.
Wrapping it all up in a glistening, pizzazz-packed extravaganza, Alexander Dodge’s scenic design with Aaron Rhyne’s projection design – the train ride from St. Petersburg to Paris is immersive, you’ll see. And Linda Cho’s gorgeous costumes drew audible gasps from the audience. Wait until you see Anastasia’s red ball gown. It was just one of the many magical moments “Anastasia” does so well.
“Anastasia” runs until March 27 at the Adrienne Arsht Center with performances Saturday, March 26 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 27 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Information and tickets on www.arshtcenter.org.
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