Sunday, April 30, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Anastasia



Anastasia
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Book by Terrence McNally
Choreography by Peggy Hickey
Directed by Darko Tresnjak

By Lauren Yarger
Tween girls who want something to watch in between performances of Wicked, look no further. The big-set, big costume musical Anastasia, inspired by the 20th Century Fox films (1997 animated starring the voice of Meg Ryan and 1956 movie starring Ingrid Bergman) is just what you are looking for.

Christy Altomare, who has received Outer Critics and Drama Desk award nominations in her Broadway debut, stars as Anya, a young girl who just might really be Anastasia, the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II (Constantine Germanacos) and Tsarina Alexandra (Lauren Blackman) who were murdered when Revolution gripped Russia in 1907. 

The young girl, who has little memory, but whose dreams are haunted, is recruited by Dmityr (Derek Klena) and his companion, Vlad (John Bolton) to school her in the ways of royalty and pass her off as Duchess Anastasia. There are some obstacles to this plan in Terrence McNally's book: 
  • Gleb (Ramin Karimloo), a Communist official takes an interest in Anya. If she really does turn out to be Anastasia, he vows to finish the job of his father, who was charged with executing the royal family.
  • The Tsar's mother, the Dowager Empress (an elegant Mary Beth Peil), is in Paris and is growing tired of imposters claiming they are her long-lost granddaughter whom she last saw 20 years ago as a young girl (Little Naastasia is played by Nicole Scimeca.)
  • No one can get to the Grad Duchess without first getting past her friend, Countess Lily (an amusing Caroline O'Connor). Vlad just might have that covered, however, as he used to have a thing with Lily back in the day.
  • Anya and Dmitry fall in love, throwing a wrench in his plan to collect a monetary reward for finding Anastasia and part ways with the amnesiac girl. 
The sets designed bu Alexander Dodge are lavish and large. Aaron Rhyne's Projection Design helps take us from St. Peterburgh to Paris and the train ride is so realistic you might just get car sick.  The biggest star of this show, however, is Linda Cho. Her costumes are numerous and breathtaking and range from street clothes to grand ballgowns and formal attire for the men. Anya makes an entrance in an exquisite blue gown trimmed with silver that is sartorial perfection. It brings screams, gasps and applause form an audience I didn't think could get much mire enthusiastic. Every tune in the Stephen Flaherty score is greeted by enthusiastic applause, especially Altomare's belt of the first-act finale"Journey to the Past" ( think "Defying Gravity" and you'll capture the feel of the moment....).

While the show, directed by Darko Tresnjak (who is reunited with some of his team from the Tony-Award winner A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, including Chorepgrapher Peggy Hickey), is grand to look at, the story is predictable and has little tension (including no discernable chemistry between Anya and Dmitry). What tension it has is a bit dark, with Anya haunted by ghosts from her past and a scene depicting the murder of her family (a bit much for little ones for whom fantasy shows are needed on Broadway) and Gleb suddenly decides killing Anastasia isn't all that important after all...... Some changes have been made from the premiere at Hartford Stage (it won the CT Critics Circle award for Best Musical last year), but it still could use some tweaks.

Besides the Academy-Award nominated "Journey to the Past," and "Once Upon a December" (the music box song), both from the animated film, the rest of the score from the team that brought us Ragtime isn't all that memorable. A humorous song called "“The Countess and the Common Man,” where Vlad and Lily try to ignite their youthful passion in middle-aged bodies, is amusing, however. 

I kept wanting something more all the way through this story, but apparently I was alone based on the enthusiastic audience response. so I predict a nice long run for this musical, which has been nominated for a bunch of Outer Critics and Drama Desk awards. Cho is nominated for a Tony for her costume designs and Peil is nominated as Featured Actress, but the musical was shut out in other Tony categories.

Anastasia charms audiences at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th St., NYC.  Tickets are $69-$189: anastasiabroadway.com

Full cast:
Christy Altomare, Derek Klena, John Bolton, Ramin Karimloo, Caroline O’Connor, Mary Beth Peil, Zach Adkins, Sissy Bell, Lauren Blackman, Kathryn Boswell, Kyle Brown, Kristen Smith Davis, Janet Dickinson, Constantine Germanacos, Wes Hart, Ian Knauer, Ken Krugman, Dustin Layton, Shina Ann Morris, James A. Pierce III, Molly Rushing, Nicole Scimeca, Jennifer Smith, Johnny Stellard, McKayla Twiggs, Allison Walsh

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- I would recommend for 10 and up


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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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