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Anastasia - Cinematic projections upstage plot in live action production

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk

Is she or isn’t she? Only her Grand-mama knows for sure in this new musical version of the Anastasia legend “inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox Motion Pictures” especially the 1997 animated film ANASTASIA with a score by Stephen Flaherty (music) & Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) for which they were nominated for two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes for “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December” that remain in this new production with many new superfluous numbers added.

It is pure fantasy. Disney style. Giving a new definition to “the suspension of disbelief.” Geared towards the many young damsels dreaming of themselves onstage of the Broadhurst Theatre waltzing away be-gowned and bejeweled with their Prince Charming happily ever after and singing power ballads and holding onto that last money note for as long as possible.

A lot of hard work has gone into this lavish production that was birthed at Hartford Stage under the direction of Darko Tresnjak who has momentarily lost his magic touch.

The actors work extremely hard – perhaps too hard – to bring life to this oft told tale of the Romanov Princess who supposedly escaped the execution of her entire family and resurfaced to claim her rightful place in history.

Unfortunately the superb projections by Aaron Rhyne supply most of the life on stage turning this production into a live action theatrical event. It’s like watching a movie with real live actors.

Some of it is charming. Some of it is dull. It is sometimes serious. Sometimes vaudevillian.

As the plot wends its long weary way from St. Petersburgh (1907, 1917, &1927) to Paris (1927) costume designer Linda Cho gets to strut her stuff. Be on the lookout come Halloween for copies of Anastasia’s final red gown to show up all over town.

With all the glamour and jewels worn by the Romanovs it’s no wonder there was a revolution. But I digress.

Christy Altomare makes a fine Anya/Anastasia. Lovely voice. A voice that many young girls strive to copy. Perhaps that is why all these cartoon heroines sound alike? Anya really can’t remember much of what happened back then. But slowly very slowly but surely bits and pieces return. She becomes part of a con. Headed by Vlad (an over the top John Bolton) and Dmitry (an excellent Derek Klena) who talk Anya into posing as the long lost last Romanov.

But the evil Gleb (Ramin Karimloo) who can hold a note longer than anyone else on Broadway has other ideas. Back and forth we go from Leningrad to the ghost of the Romanovs to teaching Anya the details – some of which she somehow knows without any helpful hints from Vlad & Dmitry as Grand-mama (a regal Mary Beth Peil as Dowager Empress) who had escaped pines away in Paris with Countess Lily (Caroline O’Connor) who is more Texas Guinan than Russian expat. She and Vlad are reunited with a number seemingly from another show – mugging away with one of the longest held kiss on Broadway.

Well you all know how this ends – eventually. But before that happens there is a brief ballet of Swan Lake – nicely done where melodrama overtakes the plot at gunpoint.

Once in Paris we wonder where she got all the money to pay for her new look even though they did find one diamond sewn into her undergarments (suspension of disbelief) and why oh why does everyone sound so American? Suspension of disbelief, encore.

This journey to the past has too many detours to make it exceptional despite a few cinematic highlights, solid performances, snow, white gloves, an all-important music box and a happy ending. And book writer Terrence McNally doesn’t quite bring it all together into one satisfying whole.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

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