The national tour of the Broadway musical “Anastasia,” based on the 1997 movie of the same name opened at The Overture Center Tuesday.
“Anastasia” is based on the myth that Anastasia Romanov, a Russian princess killed in the Bolshevik Revolution, survived her family’s assassination — but lost her memory and lived as Anya (Lila Coogan), a name given to her by nurses at the hospital. The story then follows Anya as she tries to remember who she is and get to Paris, where something unknown waits for her.
Anya meets Dmitry (Stephen Brower) and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer) who are looking for a girl to play the part of Anastasia in their plan to get rich by claiming the reward offered by the Dowager Empress (Joy Franz), who is living in Paris with her lady-in-waiting, the Countess Lily (Tari Kelly, a Madison native), for the safe return of her granddaughter.
Coogan, Brower and Staudenmayer’s voices compliment each other well, which is a feat of casting, because Coogan could easily outshine many singers with her gorgeous mixed vocal abilities, which are shown off in classics like “Journey to the Past,” and new songs like “In My Dreams” and “In a Crowd of Thousands.”
“In a Crowd of Thousands,” a love song between Anya and Dmitry, stands out as one of two songs which were notable for how lovely they are. The other, “Stay, I Pray You” — a song featuring the company and led by Count Ipolitov (Brad Greer) — is a love song of a different sort, as Russian emigrants sing for the “homeland” they are leaving behind.
Brower’s “My Petersburg” showcased his talents perfectly while giving the audience a look into Dmitry’s past, and took place on one of the most remarkable sets of the show.
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Both the sets and costumes are truly works of art. The scenery, which is actually computer generated to appear three dimensional and projected onto huge screens, makes the audience feel as though they are a part of Anya’s journey to the past.
From the Tsarina’s extravagant 50-pound dress in the prologue to the iconic blue evening gown Anya wears to the ballet, it’s clear no effort was spared by the costume department.
“The costumes and the set are incredible,” Kelly said. “Probably some of the most beautiful costumes I’ve ever worn in my life.”
Staudenmayer fulfilled the role of comedic relief perfectly, particularly when paired with Kelly.
Playing around with “The Countess and the Common Man” is one of Kelly’s favorite parts of the show, Kelly said. The role of Countess Lily gave her an opportunity, especially through that song to explore and expand her comedic side.
“The creators really let me create a lot [of the role] myself and do my own take on it,” Kelly said. “They gave us the freedom to do our own bits in ‘The Countess and the Common Man.’ They told us ‘Get here, get here, but how you get there is your choice.’”
The two played this song perfectly and had the audience in stitches almost the entire time.
Taking a well-loved movie that already has its own iconic songs and making it into a musical is difficult. It’s very hard to please movie loyalists while still creating something new and feasible to play out on a stage.
This is where the musical “Anastasia” runs into problems. It seems as though creators were being pulled in too many directions and trying to cater to too many audiences, which resulted in a production with much untapped potential.
For example, the character Gleb (Jason Michael Evans) replaces Rasputin and his hilarious sidekick Bartok as the “villain” of the show, but the audience gets to know Gleb very little beyond learning some of his rudimentary motives and basic background. This leaves the audience with a predictable character, who admittedly sings some decent songs, like “Still” about his slightly clichéd inner conflict.
Additionally, there was no subtlety whatsoever in the show. At one point, a pair of ballet tickets are “accidentally” dropped and then picked up by another character in a scene that seemed to be there solely to further the plot. Why didn’t they go back for them? How did they then get into the ballet without said tickets?
Despite there being some issues with the overall plot and creation of the show, it was still very enjoyable, and the actors who took on these roles did a fabulous job of playing them.
“Anastasia” is at The Overture Center until August 4, and student tickets are available for $25.