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Anastasia on Broadway – A Review

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Going to see Anastasia with my father-in-law, brother-in-law, niece, and daughter was something of a compromise, and our best effort to find Broadway entertainment suitable for three generations of family members. This effort succeeded quite admirably, as Anastasia kept us all quite entertained for two-and-a-half hours. (The younger members of our party got a history lesson, as well.) Unlike the animated 1997 film Anastasia, which inspired this production, Anastasia on Broadway is fairly explicit about Russian history, giving us action in 1907, 1917, and 1927, while telling the story of the amnesiac Romanov, who miraculously survived when the rest of her family was killed in the Russian revolution, and who survived under the name “Anya” as a street sweeper.)

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There were legends and rumors associated with the real Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia for years, and even a number of impostors hoping to capitalize on the Romanov name. In 2007, the survival of any of the royal family was conclusively disproved, thanks to forensic analysis and DNA testing. But this is a rather lovely version of the myth, taking us from a palace in St. Petersburg, to communist Leningrad, to Paris in the jazz age.

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It’s not life-changing, and we’ve all (except the very youngest among us) seen many of these sentiments and much of this kind of plot before. It’s a little like Chess, and a bit like Gigi, with some My Fair Lady sprinkled in.  You could call it trite and silly, but I think it is kinder and more accurate to call it old-fashioned. The Bolshevik, Gleb, pursuing our heroes and heroine all the way to Paris, has a heart of gold. So goes the Dowager Empress, after her granddaughter breaks down her defenses. So do the con men who train Anya in the ways of the aristocracy in the hope for a reward. The social-climbing Vlad lands on his feet, ending up with his old lover, the wealthy Countess Lily, who now spends time with the White Russians reminiscing at the Neva Club. And Dmitri, Anya/Anastasia’s love interest, altruistically turns down the Dowager Duchess’ reward in an effort to reunite his beloved with her one remaining relative, and is then rewarded with true love.

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Still…the music is sweet, particularly “Once Upon a December,” a beautiful wintry tune:

“Someone holds me safe and warm,
Horses prance through a silver storm,
Figures dancing gracefully across my memory…”

There’s a lovely scene at the ballet, where we get a glimpse of Swan Lake, along with the struggles and fears of the various characters at a pivotal plot moment. And the costumes are gorgeous: no matter how many times we’ve seen something like it before, Anya’s makeover into Anastasia is just magnificent.

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Christy Altomare, in the title role, has a fantastic voice, and makes for a charming heroine, brave, resourceful, kind, and intelligent. And Mary Beth Piel, the Dowager Empress, is truly regal and grand. Vlad (John Bolton) and Lily (Vicki Lewis) have a nice comedic number in “The Countess and the Common Man.”

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Anastasia opened last year and seems to be going strong; while perhaps not the best choice for the sophisticated theatergoer, it’s quite good for a family outing. Maybe afterwards, have dinner at Café Un Deux Trois and pretend to be in Paris?

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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Lead-In Image Courtesy of Official Site and Anastasia Musical LLC