Anastasia is based on the long-held myth that Grand Duchess Anastasia and her younger brother, Tsarevich Alexei, escaped the family’s assassination in 1918. In the mass grave that held the parents, only three of the four sisters were found. Spoilers! The fourth sister and Alexei were found in 2007, ten years after the animated movie release. Although the mystic Rasputin (in the movie, but not the play) makes for a great bad guy, he was actually assassinated two years before the Romanovs. Last, but not least, the Dowager Empress never lived in Paris. She traveled to England to live with her sister, Queen Alexandra, and from there she returned to her city of birth, Copenhagen, Denmark, until her death at age 80.
Disney bought the Fox animated film, and the musical is Disney-style adapted by Terrence McNally with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens expanding their music from the animated score. It turns Anastasia into a sweeping adventure, romance and historical epic and rolls it into a show geared for old and young alike. It does not exactly follow the film, with a few different characters for your enjoyment. My one comment on the story/score is that it is a little ballad-heavy.
While I did find the opening a little stilted with the dialogue and stiff presentation of the courtiers, it smoothes out quickly once Anya (Kyla Stone) takes the stage with Dmitri (Sam McClellan) and Vlad (Bryan Seastrom). It is noted in the publicity that Ms. Stone is the first black woman to play Anya, probably because photos of the Romanov family are publicly available. She plays the role with style, grace, and exquisitely navigates her solos.
The cast overall is comprised of strong voices, with several fun dance numbers as well as a short rendition of Swan Lake. Mr. McClellan and Countess Lily (Madeline Raube) are the more comic relief roles, with Ms. Raube stealing a lot of the focus when onstage. More notable, vocally, is the new “villain” chasing Anya to Paris, Gleb (Brandon Delgado), whose voice and presence more than fill the role. The one other voice I’d like to call out is Christian McQueen, who plays multiple roles. When he solos as Count Ipolitov, I picture him as Joe in Showboat singing Ol Man River.
The Dowager Empress is regally portrayed by Gerri Weagraff. The real-life Dowager Empress was much beloved by her countrymen, considered not only a beauty but also a woman of character and intelligence. At one time, she led over 400 philanthropies in Russia. Tough shoes to fill, and Ms. Weagraff does her justice.
The costumes are amazing. Gleaming tiaras and bejeweled gowns shimmer to the back of the theater. I have no idea how all of those quick changes between costumes are done, but one moment a waif, and the next a princess (and not just Anya). While the set is a fairly simple grouping of flats, they are all used for elaborate and effective projections.
Part of the FSCJ Artist Series, ANASTASIA is at the Times-Union March 29- April 3, 2022, with performances Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Ticket prices vary based on show and seating. Masks are no longer required in the building. For tickets, go to fscjartistseries.org or call (904) 632-5000.
The Artist Series has just announced its upcoming season, including Aladdin, Elf, Pretty Woman, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Mean Girls. Package prices are available at fscjartistseries.org.
By Cessy Newmon