On December 1st, some of our students went on a school trip to see Anastasia on Broadway. This journey to the past was graciously organized by one of our Russian teachers, Mrs. Dobry.
“This was a fantastic and mature show that was good for high school students learning about the Romanov family and the Russian Revolution. I like how it left some the story to our imaginations,” she shared.
From the students excitedly singing on the school bus, to watching the amazing musical, to meeting cast members at the stage door after the show, the overall experience is one I will always remember.
The heartwarming musical was inspired by the 1997 animated film, and follows the story of Anya: a determined young woman with amnesia trying to find her family and herself. Set in the downfall of imperial Russia and the rise of communism, the rumor that the youngest Romanov princess, Anastasia, survived the Russian Revolution of 1917 brings hope to the resentful citizens of the new Communist government. Upon hearing about the generous reward the Dowager Empress in Paris is offering for the return of Anastasia, conmen Dmitry and Vlad launch a plan to find a girl to impersonate Anastasia so they can escape the economically grim country. After Anya, Dmitry, and Vlad cross paths, their adventure begins. They start traveling to Paris, with Anya training to act as an impostor but slowly discovering herself. Soon, as Anya finally comes face to face with her past; her limited confidence and her belief that she is truly Anastasia is tested with her life at stake. Enchantingly hopeful, the musical pulls the audience deeper into the remnants of imperial Russia, and expresses themes of self-identity and individual happiness.
Located in the Broadhurst Theater, the stage and costume designs of Anastasia are truly unique compared to any other show. The constantly rotating props, digital screens, and the light projections on the sides of the stage transport the audience to the ever-changing settings of the characters’ journey. Although some have argued that the digital screens hinder the musical from advancing beyond the animated movie, I think the screens and accompanying props tremendously helped to tell the story.
In a musical that emphasizes the importance of location and home, the set is a vital part of the performance. I can see the effort put into the art of location in each scene, from the moving train cart, to the cherry blossom park, to the ballet opera complete with booth seats for the actors. In addition, the costumes are precisely detailed, capturing the gorgeous grandness of imperial Russia, the militaristic style of Soviet workers, and the lively essence of 1920s Parisian nightclub fashion. At the end of the play, we could see that the nostalgic Anastasia is also a story of accepting modernization and change.
The cast and band of Anastasia blew us away with their talent and Russian enthusiasm. Since the musical was inspired by the 1997 animated film, many of our students were familiar with the characters and excited to see their personalities further develop. Christy Altomare brought a sense of pained hope and innocence to the originally sarcastic and stubborn Anya. John Bolton shined with his persistent and humorous interpretation of Vlad. Zach Adkins, though being an understudy, wowed us with his selfless and loving portrayal of Dmitry. The musical also developed the Dowager Empress’s heartbreak more efficiently than the movie, and clarified the relationship between Vlad and Countess Lily in a more comedic way. A major adaptation from the movie was the replacement of the evil wizard Rasputin by the misunderstood Bolshevik general Gleb (Ramin Karimloo). Although the change emphasized that the villain was not one-dimensional, the complexity of Gleb’s underdeveloped character was difficult to notice in the beginning. Still, the play became more historically accurate and surprisingly unbiased with politics. The audience enjoyed classic songs from the movies, including the hauntingly pretty melody of “Once Upon a December,” and the hopeful “Journey to the Past.” With more than 20 new songs added to the original score, the new pieces are equally as catchy. We loved the patriotic undertone from “The Neva Flows,” the romantic plot of “A Crowd of Thousands,” and the euphorically wistful yet jazzy “Land of Yesterday.” I particularly loved “Quartet at the Ballet,” which was both visually and musically fascinating to watch. The composer combined the traditional Russian ballet, Swan Lake, with reprises of each Anastasia character’s theme song.
Although the historically real Anastasia was proven to have died in the Bolshevik takeover, the musical’s ending hinted at these facts and brought a beautiful meaning that will last with you for days. The musical has received some complaints of the plot being stale, and at some points confusing without background context. However, I think it is ideal for our generation, who loves the nostalgic children’s film but also recognizes the historical tension of the time. The musical was able to balance its whimsical and emotional elements to tell a story enriched with culture and history. The captivating legend of Anastasia lives on here, and I hope everyone can see this musical once upon a December!