Every fan of the 1997 movie “Anastasia” who feels like it was bypassed at the Oscars has reason to rejoice — Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s new stage adaptation is sure to take the Tonys by storm. Just like its source material, the show focuses on the execution of the Romanov family by the Bolsheviks and the legend that the youngest daughter Anastasia survived. The dowager empress (Marie Beth Piel) publicly offers to reward anyone that reunites her with her granddaughter in Paris, 10 years after the execution, spiking the interest of con-men Dmitry (Derek Klena) and Vlad (John Bolton). They meet Anya (Christy Altomare), an 18-year-old amnesiac orphan hoping to reunite with her family, and take advantage of her resemblance to the duchess to escape from communist Russia.
The beloved Satanist Rasputin and his sidekick albino bat didn’t make the cut, but are replaced with the Bolsheviks. The original exclusion of one of the greatest political upheavals in history, replaced with a dark magic subplot, was always strange and jarring. Excluding Rasputin also brought Tony nominee Ramin Karimloo to the cast as antagonist Gleb Vagano — a dark and dreamy Bolshevik general torn between his duties and his feelings for Anya.
With an inherent innocence, Altomare’s Anya is entrancing as the duchess, yet less believable as the rough-around-the-edges street-sweeper. For example, in one combat scene in dire need of better choreography, Anya defends herself with a cringe-worthy eye poke.
Most of Altomare’s choices feel perfectly geared towards the very back row of the theater — her facial expressions are so animated that they bring an immediate lovability to the feisty character, yet risk seeming forced. These minor flaws will undoubtedly fade with time, leaving the show with a leading lady of unmatched talent.
Another standout was Klena’s Dmitry. The theater came alive with high-pitched screams for Dmitry and Anya’s long-awaited kiss. Their chemistry reached its peak in the duet “In A Crowd of Thousands,” one of the 16 new songs added to the show.
Klena showed the same vocal control in his ballad “My Petersburg,” which was combined with Aaron Rhyne’s transcendent projections for breath-taking results. At times these projections were a poignant backdrop — blossoming cherry trees, panoramic views of Russia and twinkling Paris lights. When combined with Alexander Dodge’s equally advanced set design, they created an almost cinematic experience. This worked particularly well in the ensemble piece “We’ll Go From There,” with a rotating train carriage that was striking in its simplicity.
Every design aspect of the show was unrivalled, especially Linda Cho’s impeccable costumes. From a legendary strapless blue dress to an intrinsically Russian crimson-gold gown, Cho’s red carpet worthy creations stole the show.
While inspiring and uplifting, the show also had standout moments of emotional depth and rawness. Ghosts of Anya’s family were projected around the theatre for the Russian lullaby “Once Upon a December.” Her new solo “In My Dreams,” was heart-wrenching in its simplicity and musicality. The piece was composed by Stephen Flaherty, who completed his additional graduate studies in Musical Theater at NYU.
“Anastasia” continues its run at the Broadhurst Theatre at 235 W. 144th St through Jan. 7, 2018.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, May 1 print edition.
Email Kamila Daurenova at [email protected]