Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Book by Terrence McNally
Inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox Motion Pictures
by special arrangement with Buena Vista Theatrical
from the play by Marcelle Maurette as adapted by Guy Bolton
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Director – Sarah Hartmann
Music Director—Glenn Alexander II
Choreography – Bill Burns
Scenic Designer—Alexander Dodge
Lighting Designer—Donald Holder
Sound Designer – Peter Hylenski
Costume Designer – Linda Cho
Make-Up Design—Joe Dulude II
Wig and Hair Design-Charles G. LaPointe
Projection Design—Aaron Rhyne
Vocal Arrangements—Stephen Flaherty
Dance Arrangements—David Chase
Original Choreographer—Peggy Hickey
Original Director—Darko Tresnjak
CAST (at reviewed performance)
Little Anastasia—Alexandrya Salazar
Dowager Empress—Gerri Weagraff
Tsarina Alexandra—Kaitlyn Jackson
Tsar Nicholas II—Amin Fuson
Young Anastasia—Brooklyn Libao
Maria Romanov—Amy Smith
Olga Romanov—Lauren Teyke
Tatiana Romanov—Thalia Atallah
Alexei Romanov—Alexandrya Salazar
Count Ipolitov—Amin Fuson
Countess Lily—Madeline Raube
Count Leopold—Billy McGavin
Count Gregory—Amin Fuson
Countess Gregory—Sarah Statler
Odette in Swan Lake—Lauren Teyke
Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake—Alec Lloyd
Von Rothbart in Swan Lake—Luke Rands
Suitors, Soldiers, Comrades, Ghosts, Parisians, Russian Aristocrats in Exile, Waiters, Reporters, Cygnets in Swan Lake—Thalia Atallah, Louis Brogna, Amin Fuson, Dakota Hoar, Kaitlyn Jackson, Zoie Lee, Brooklyn Libao, Danny Martin, Billy McGavin, Luke Rands, Madeline Raube, Lathan A. Roberts, Amy Smith, Sarah Statler, Lauren Tekyke
Reviewed Performance: 4/6/2023
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Beginning in St. Petersburg in 1906, five-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia is saying goodbye to her grandmother, the Dowager Empress as she prepares to move to Paris. Before leaving, the Dowager Empress gives Anastasia a music box. Eleven years later, Anastasia is attending a ball with her family when the Bolsheviks invade the family palace. As the family attempts to escape, Anastasia tries to retrieve her music box, however, is captured and executed with the rest of her family. The Dowager Empress receives word that the entire family has been executed.
Now, in 1927, Gleb Vaganov, a general for the Bolshevik announces that St. Petersburg is now known as Leningrad. He promises a bright and peaceful future, as long as no one protests or illegal attempts to flee the country. The Russians protest the change but receive hope hearing that Anastasia may have survived. Two con-men (Dmitry and Vlad) hear the rumors and attempt to successfully plan the “biggest con in history.” They plan to take a naïve orphan girl suffering from amnesia (Anya) and groom her into becoming Anastasia in an attempt to extort money from the Dowager Empress in Paris. Of course, little do they know, Anya is in fact Anastasia, a memory unbeknownst to her.
It is a lengthy story (running close to 3 hours), but one that is full of fantasy, mystery, magic, and haunting memories of the past. This was my first time to see any form of “Anastasia,” (no, not even the 1997 Don Bluth animated feature-which always brings shock and surprise to anyone that I mention this to), so, I feel privileged to come in with an absolutely fresh pair of eyes. The only backstory I had was the actual story of the House of Romanov and the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Now, I feel compelled to watch the 1997 animated film, and compare, while it may be hard to compare the musical and the film. I am afraid it might be somewhat of a disappointment after seeing the musical. We shall see.
Director Sarah Hartmann brought together an ensemble cast which worked well together, and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together scenery, lighting and costumes that enhanced the story being told by these characters from Russian history. The overall vision and concept were very impressive. The production was presented in such a professional manner-it really had that “Broadway” feel. The actors and the musicians were so fully charged with energy it really was a moving experience at the theater. From the moment the show began, members of the audience were pulled in the story, and the most beautiful visual elements of scenery, costuming, and absolutely outstanding projections. Hartmann certainly delivers a stunning, and dazzling spectacle, to the backdrop of beautiful, tight harmonies and impressive choreography. This is exactly why I attend the theatre-to be transported to a different time and place and to be drawn into the world of the characters and the story that they are telling. If you wish to be transported to another time and place, and to leave the present behind “Anastasia” definitely delivers.
Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge successfully transformed the grand proscenium stage into multiple locations. In a story with so many locations, each one was designed and executed in a quick, yet detailed manner. I was impressed with Dodge’s diligence in each location and especially the usage of simple set pieces to create the full location where the action was happening. It’s the little details like that really pull me into the world of the story. Not only did Dodge deliver in the scenic aspect, but projections also (which seamlessly collaborate with the scenic elements) were visually stunning. It is becoming the norm in newer Broadway productions to rely heavily on the use of projections, as technology allows designers to use more creative license using animations and quick location changes. It is apparent to me that a lot of time, care, and diligence was incorporated from both the scenic and projection designers.
There was quite a bit of scenic changes to accommodate the multiple locations required within the story. I thought that these transitions were executed quite marvelously. The transitions were seamless. As one scene was ending, the next one was beginning, with no pause or break in the story. This really kept the momentum of the story moving. One “gem” that I especially enjoyed was seeing extra-wide view of Russian streets in St. Petersburg (Petrograd later in the story), and the expressive and colorful views of Paris as the story progressed into the 1920’s. There was such an apparent contrast of color in each location. The colors used in Russia were so drab and brown, symbolic of the tyranny of the Bolsheviks, while in Paris, bright colors represented life and freedom in the City of Light.
The projections (designed by Aaron Rhyne) that were integrated as the backdrop of the story were excellently designed and executed. Not only did the color stand out, but the animations were phenomenal. I felt as if I was really visiting each city and location and traveling along with these characters. The most extraordinary use of projection was in the scene where Anya, Dmitry and Vlad are preparing to exit Russia and hop on a train to Paris. I felt as if we were actually on a moving train. As the country views passed by in the rear, the staging and positioning of the actors was flawless. It is amazing how something so simple can be so effective in storytelling. The projections were full of color, and very symbolic. The moment the Bolsheviks charged the palace gave me goosebumps. Simply amazing, and visually breathtaking.
The lighting was designed by Donald Holder. Holder did a fantastic job plotting lighting that was appropriate for each scene and mood. One element that was absolutely awe-inspiring was seeing silhouettes of the dancers at the final Romanov ball, as remembered by Anya in her nightmares. They were reminiscent of ghosts dancing in someone’s mind, truly a haunting and horrific nightmare. This was another “edge of my seat moments” when I would feel chills every time they would appear on stage. Holder did a truly remarkable job of collaborating with scenic and projection designs.
The choreography was executed by Bill Burns. Not only did the overall choreography impress, but each element and style were precise and executed with ease. The choreography was graceful in every scene and provided yet another brilliant element of storytelling. From the traditional ballroom dancing early on in the Prologue, and later in Anya’s nightmares, to the traditional Charleston in the Neva Club in Paris and even the eloquent ballet used in “Swan Lake” presented as a “production within a production.” Burns made the choreography look so easy. It was dazzling.
Linda Cho served as the Costume Designer. Cho did a wonderful job of using the costume designs to help the time progression tell the story in the production. From 1906 to 1927, there was quite a shift in style and design of clothing and wardrobe. Cho was able to use the different time periods to help tell the story, and, also, clearly give the audience an idea of when and where the story was taking place. From the beautiful and traditional gowns and hats and suits in the early 1900’s (in the House of Romanov) to colorful and dapper designs of the 1920’s in Paris, Cho painted a beautiful three-dimensional picture of each character and their place in the story. I was absolutely enamored with the use of sparkle and jewels projecting a royal bearing the Romanov family.
Veronica Stern was incredibly believable in the role of Anya (The Grand Duchess Anastasia). Through facial expression, body language, and an incredible vocal range, Stern had some beautiful moments on stage with Dmitry, Gleb, and the Dowager Empress. Stern’s presence on stage was nearly constant, the enthusiasm and honesty on stage was a wonderful depiction of Anya and Anastasia. Stern never faltered in delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable. I was quite impressed with her vocal talents, suitable for an operatic performance. Overall, Stern had wonderful charisma and enthusiasm on stage. There was such innocence in Stern’s performance. Stern was enjoyable to watch and was consistent with acting, vocal and choreography throughout the entire production. My favorite moment in the production was the performance of “Once Upon A December” early in the Prologue by the Dowager Empress (played fantastically by Gerri Weagraff) and young Anastasia and recaptured beautifully in Act II by Anya and the elder Dowager Empress in the reprise. Such a beautiful moment.
The role of Dmitry was played wonderfully by Willem Butler. Butler’s performance was enjoyable to watch as his character progressed from simple con-man in St. Petersburg to falling in love with Anya. Butler’s character provided the necessary element of humor in the story and had wonderful on-stage chemistry with Stern. A standout moment was the phenomenal duet with Stern in “My Petersburg,” and the opening of Act II (“Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart)”). Butler was likeable on stage and was a pleasure to watch in moments with Anya, and friend, Vlad (played impressively by Bryan Seastrom). Butler had wonderful facial expressions and was incredibly honest and always appealing to watch.
Additionally, I was most entertained and impressed with the talents of Madeline Raube, in the role of Countess Lily, Noblewoman to the Dowager Empress. Raube was full of life on stage and had great comic timing, and facial expressions. A standout moment with Raube was with Vlad (Seastrom) in their performance of “The Countess and the Common Man” a reunion of sorts from a past relationship.
Another standout was Christian McQueen in the role of Gleb, the Bolshevik General seeking to end the rumor of Anastasia’s existence and finish the execution began by his father. McQueen’s voice was most impressive. As an audience member, I found it hard to find his character unlikeable, due to his smooth and powerful voice. His presence on stage was always strong, and he never faltered in his delivery. As mentioned, I found it hard to not like his character, although his character was the antagonist in the story.
This production of Anastasia is definitely worth seeing. The diligence evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. From the moment the overture begins, I guarantee you will be drawn into a world that no longer exists and allows a genuine exit from reality. Not only is it a beautiful and exquisite production, but it is an excellent history lesson-a time that is rarely taught, and in this production, told with such beauty. I encourage you to see “Anastasia” while you can, you do not want to miss this dazzling production.
2022-2023 Broadway at the Center
AT&T PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
WINSPEAR OPERA HOUSE
2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Plays through April 8.
Saturday, April 8—2:00 pm and 8:00 pm
Ticket prices range from $38.00-$154.00-depending on day and seating.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.attpac.org, call the box office at 214-880-0202, or go to the AT&T Performing Arts Center Information Center at 2353 Flora Street (Sat. 10am-9pm.)
**Please Note-Buyers are reminded that the AT&T’s Performing Arts Center Information Center Box Office is the only official retail outlet for all performances at the Winspear Opera House. Ticket buyers who purchase tickets from a ticket broker or any third party should be aware that the Winspear Opera House is unable to reprint or replace lost or stolen tickets and is unable to contact patrons with information regarding time changes or other pertinent updates regarding the performance.