The national tour of Anastasia has come to Cleveland, and is playing now through February 23, 2020 on the Connor Palace stage at Playhouse Square. Bringing with it phenomenal design elements, melodic songs, and joyful dancing, Anastasia is a treat for the eyes and ears.
Slightly different from the 1997 animated movie, the show is similar in that the audience witnesses the murder of the Romanov royal family in Russia. Years after the horrific event, there are rumors that one of the children (the youngest girl, Anastasia) survived and may be alive to reclaim the throne. Let the parade of Anastasia impostors begin!
We then see the journey of a young woman named Anya (who has amnesia) as she travels in search of her forgotten past. Anya (voiced in the original movie by Meg Ryan) joins forces with con men Dmitri and Vlad (voiced in the movie by John Cusack and Kelsey Grammer, respectively). The trio hatches a plan to get out of Russia, sneak into France, and to present Anya to the Dowager Empress as the long-lost Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. What none of them realize is that Anya is actually the lost Anastasia!
Notably, this stage version is a bit more “grown up” than the animated piece. With Book by playwright Terrence McNally, and score by Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), this Darko Tresnjak directed production is more politically focused, and removes the kid-friendly elements of animals and many super campy gags. It also features songs from the original movie (“Once Upon a December,” “Journey to the Past,” “Learn to Do It,” “A Rumor in St. Petersburg,” and “Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart),” however there are the new additions of songs like the ballad “Still,” sung by the new villain named Gleb.
There are new characters, as well as the obvious omission of old favorites. Gone are the evil Rasputin (voiced in movie by Christopher Lloyd) and much-loved comedic bat, Bartok (voiced in the movie by Hank Azaria). New for the stage is Bolshevik officer Gleb, whose father actually shot the entire Romanov family. As the son of this soldier, Gleb feels that it is his duty to his father and country to hunt down and kill the last possible survivor of the royal family – Anastasia.
Another switch up from the film is French lady-in-waiting Sophie (voiced in the film by Bernadette Peters) – the stage version of this role is now lady-in-waiting Countess Lily, who steals the show with her vivacity on several occasions.
Audiences will also notice that Dmitri’s backstory is different in the stage version. In the film, Dmitri grew up as a servant boy in the palace of the Romanovs. On the stage, Dmitri comes to know Anastasia as she passes by him during a parade, when he is 10-years-old and she is 8-years-old.
OK, enough compare-and-contrast – let’s move on to the nuts and bolts of this performance. The visuals are magnificent! The backgrounds are alive with a potent and realistic giant LED wall that makes the stage feel like it’s actually a palace, a bridge, a moving train, an orchard, and more. It looks as though the characters can actually step through and lose themselves in the seemingly 3D world of the production. The snow throughout is a gorgeous addition. Note that some audience members may find parts of the background animation jarring, as the train ride in particular moves and spins in such a way that is slightly dizzying.
The costumes are opulent, as the opening scenes are awash in crystal, jewels, color and layers of sparkle. The set itself feels huge and provides a stunning visual for all locations.
The choreography is traditional and varied, featuring everything from waltz to polka to classical ballet. The ballet sequence in Act II features a lovely pas de deux, and ladies gracefully en pointe.
As for the talent, the stage is full of charm as Jake Levy (Dmitri) and Edward Staudenmayer (Vlad) grab the audience with plenty of entertaining charisma and bold vocals – they are fun to watch. Joy Franz (Dowager Empress) gives a very moving performance as the grieving grand mama, filled with love and loss. Jason Michael Evans (Gleb) is an imposing figure, giving the right blend of internal turmoil and vocal machismo. Alison Ewing (Countess Lily) is a strong but also comedically necessary character, singing her heart out and making the audience cheer and laugh. The only “off” part of this cast is Lila Coogan (Anya), whose line delivery is distracting with over-annunciation. Typically, audience members will complain that they cannot understand what the actors are saying. Coogan is doing something very opposite with her diction, which is strange to get past at first. Luckily, her singing voice is lovely, which makes up for odd dialogue. She is beautiful and innocent, but at times presents as a bit wishy-washy. Regardless, her character is overall likeable.
Anastasia plays now through February 23, 2020 on the Connor Palace stage. The breathtaking visuals alone are worth the ticket price, and the overall cast does a fantastic job presenting the more mature stage version of this late ’90s animated movie.
Journey to the Ticket Office for your seat, which will cost $39 – $139. Contact 216-241-6000, or visit www.playhousesquare.org to purchase or get more information.
Approximate run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes (including one intermission)
SLIDESHOW PHOTOS CREDIT: Evan Zimmerman, Matthew Murphy