Anastasia: Princess to Orphan and Back

Reviewer: Kristine Gotham

Venue: Midland Center for the Arts

Last evening, Midland Center for the Arts, with the help of Huntington Bank Broadway and Beyond series, presented a new Broadway musical, Anastasia.  I was lucky enough to be a member of the audience.  This show is spectacular!  The music, the costumes, the set, transported audience members from their seat in a theater to Russia during the 1917 Revolution and later to Paris in 1927.

This is a story of Grand Duchess, Anastasia, the daughter of the ruling emperor, who survives the murder of her entire family, only to find herself an orphan in Moscow with no memory of where she came from or who she actually is.  Kyla Stone perfectly portrays Anastasia, known as Anya after she loses her memory.  Kyla’s performance shows Anastasia’s strength in overcoming the tragic loss of her family as well as her vulnerability in not knowing who she is but hope of who she might be.  She develops her character through song, delivering powerful melodies that draw the listener into her world that of a lost girl longing to remember what she dreams is real.

To the world, Anastasia was lost along with her family.  But her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, exiled to Paris, holds out hope that Anastasia is somehow alive and will be found.  She offers a reward to any who would bring her beloved granddaughter back to her.  In the hopes of collecting the reward, two con men, Vlad and Dmitry, convince Anya that she can be the long lost Duchess.  They partner with Anya, quizzing her on all things Romanov, until she is absolutely convinced that she could actually be Anastasia.  Bryan Seastrom, as Vlad, is the perfect picture of a con man.  He is flamboyant and over the top.  Once a member of the Russian Court, he remembers a torrid affair that he had with Countess Lily, the Dowager Empress’ Lady in Waiting.  Vlad hopes to reunite with Lily in Paris and rekindle the relationship that they once shared.  Dmitry is portrayed by Sam McLellan.  Dmitry is less invested in the scheme, but believes that Anya could be the Duchess.  He recalls seeing Anastasia in a parade when they were young.  Their eyes met as the parade passed by him.  He has never forgotten the feelings that he felt that day and wants nothing more than for Anya to be Anastasia and to have the life that she deserves, one of peace, happiness and the love of her grandmother. 

The three take a harrowing trip to Paris, evading police forces that seek them and traveling by foot when train travel became too dangerous.  Ultimately the trio arrive in Paris and are ready to present Anastasia to the Dowager Empress, portrayed by Gerri Weagraff.  If she declares that Anya is indeed Anastasia then all of their hard work will be rewarded.  But the Empress is disheartened.  She has heard too many stories from too many young women claiming to be her granddaughter.  She does not want to meet with Anya and does not believe that she is, in actuality, Anastasia.  At a second meeting, however, she begins to test Anya, asking questions that on the real Anastasia would know the answers.  Anya of course knows the answers and even has a music box that the Empress gave her the last time they were together.  Anastasia is alive!  She has been reunited with her beloved grandmother.    

The matter is not completely settled, however. There are those who do not want Anastasia to be found or even alive.  Comrade Gorlinsky is one who is tasked to determine if the story is true, if Anya is who she says she is, and to eliminate the perceived threat that she presents to the current land of Russia.  Gorlinsky, played by Harrison Drake, is the son of a soldier involved in the murder of Anastasia’s family so many years ago.  He meets Anya on the streets and has compassion for her.  When he is later tasked to track her down in Paris and either return her to Russia or finish the job that his father failed, Gorlinsky, struggles between his duty to his country and his feelings toward the young, vulnerable woman he met on the streets of Leningrad.  In the end, his humanity wins over his sense of duty and Anastasia is allowed to live.  

Their task complete, Vlad and Dmitry are offered the reward for returning the Duchess.  The Dowager Empress informs Anastasia that Dmitry declined the reward.  When Anastasia seeks Dmitry out and questions why he didn’t take the reward, he replies that his reward is seeing her live a happy life.  Anastasia realizes that she loves Dmitry and the two finally declare their love for each other.  They choose to leave behind the truth of Anastasia and the Dowager Empress declares that the story of her granddaughter is over.  Anastasia is just a dream.

The musical score for this play helps to develop the scenes and the story.  While in Russia, the songs are in more of a minor key, but once in Paris they become more bright and cheerful.  The costumes for the Romanovs are elegant, rich in color and jewels, perfectly befitting a ruling family.  While in Russia, the costumes are dark, gray, and hopeless.  The set is minimal with 3 large screens in the background, where images are projected to portray the scenery.  From a Russian palace, to a dark Russian military office, to the streets of Paris, the projections complete the fantasy and bring the story to life.

This show is an absolute delight!  I would encourage you to attend.  There are two more opportunities, Saturday, June 4 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, June 5 at 2 pm.  

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