“Anastasia,” the new Broadway musical by Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens, and Terrence McNally, which just opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway, is a highly enjoyable affair, with a host of good songs and fine performances. Inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox Motion Picture of the same name, this production is certainly decked out with some of the most dazzling and sumptuous designs (including Alexander Dodge’s remarkable sets and Linda Cho’s gorgeous costumes) and the whole show is a thoroughly professional musical that is bound to please audience members of all ages. It is with some regret that I must admit that I also felt slightly let down by the Broadway production of “Anastasia,” mainly because I saw the out-of-town tryout of this show last year at Hartford Stage.
At Hartford Stage, last Spring, “Anastasia” was a completely stunning show that had Broadway written all over it. It is curious, then, that, now that the show has finally reached New York, it doesn’t quite live up to the memory (and promise) of that Hartford Stage production. Looking at both the Playbill and the out-of-town program from last year, one can see that relatively little of the score has been altered and, except for one notable new cast member, all the leads from Hartford are now starring in the Broadway version.
But something is missing. Perhaps the sense of awe that I initially felt just can’t be replicated. However, this new Broadway mounting should still be a colorful musical for the majority of the theatergoing public and for fans of the animated movie version. For me, as entertaining and tuneful as much of the evening is, this new “Anastasia” just doesn’t quite live up to the excitement I felt when first seeing this musical a year ago.
To get to the good news right away, director Darko Tresnjak has staged an all-out extravaganza in bringing “Anastasia” to Broadway, and the show is great to look at throughout, with some of the most astonishing projections (by Aaron Rhyne) that I have ever seen. Also, the director has nicely tightened up the show, as a whole. And the score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens is a good one, with these songs benefiting from a second hearing. What’s more, Terrence McNally’s book is certainly literate and engaging, with some moments that can nearly bring tears to your eyes.
As for the cast, the one new lead in the show, Ramin Karimloo, is simply wonderful. Playing the unsympathetic character Gleb, Karimloo is extremely charismatic, with a rich singing voice and excellent stage presence. He certainly brings new prominence to this secondary role. And, speaking of standing out in a supporting part, “Anastasia” is nearly stolen by the funny and big-voiced Caroline O’Connor, as Countess Lily, the Dowager Empress’ lady in waiting. Even more so than in Hartford, O’Connor is a real live wire onstage, making the most of her every line and gesture.
The other returning cast members mostly also do a good job, especially veteran actress Mary Beth Peil, as the strong, yet ultimately touching Dowager Empress. As the scheming Vlad, trying to pass a girl off as Anastasia Romanov, granddaughter to the Dowager Empress, in order to collect a huge reward, John Bolton has a lot of fun with his role and he definitely benefits from having scenes opposite the lively Caroline O’Connor.
Which brings us to the two leads in the show, Christy Almotare as the title character and Derek Klena as Dmitry, Vlad’s partner in crime. When I saw these performers in Hartford, they both shone, particularly Almatore as the perfect princess at the center of the story. Seeing these actors now on Broadway, somehow they don’t quite dazzle as much as they did initially, which is mystifying to me, considering that they are basically giving the same performances I saw a year ago. Perhaps, it is because I am now seeing them for a second time and these portrayals are somewhat lacking that freshness of being absolutely “new.” (I must note, however, that Christy Almotare’s powerful first act finale song, “Journey to the Past,” still brings down the house).
Still, hearing the audience around me, I am definitely in the minority in finding the leads, as well as the show, on the whole, less than the knockouts that I saw at Hartford Stage. This is good for the show, because “Anastasia” certainly has all the ingredients for a smash Broadway musical and a good deal of the evening is, indeed, pleasurable. Hopefully, when you see “Anastasia” at the Broadhurst Theatre (which I suggest you do), you will fall completely under its spell, without the mixed feelings and reservations that ultimately kept me from fully embracing the musical as much as I longed to be able to do.
“Anastasia” continues performances at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City. For tickets, please visit www.AnastasiaBroadway.com or call Telecharge at 212-239-6200.
Photo: (L-R) Ramin Karimloo and Christy Altomare
Photo by Matthew Murphy