Anastasia on Broadway

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

With Broadway’s Tony Awards last Sunday, today’s review takes me to a musical that was expected to be nominated for Best Musical- but wasn’t: ‘Anastasia.’ Directed by award-winner Darko Tresnjak- who also directed the original production at Hartford Stage- the show is a big, sweeping entertainment taking place around the Russian Revolution.

As the Playbill notes, it was inspired by the ‘Anastasia’ films- including, of course, the big 1997 animated hit my daughter and so many other young girls loved. And, probably in an attempt to streamline the plot to get enough songs into the story by multi award-winner Terence McNally, Rasputin and the animals have been cut from the animated version.

That leaves just Ramin Karimloo, the Broadway star of the recent fine revival of ‘Les Miz,’ to be the lone villain- a Russian officer who is conflicted because he is drawn to Anastasia but his duty is to kill her, since she is the last survivor of the executed ruling Romanoff family- which prompted her amnesia… which serves as the story’s catalyst.

 (l to r): Derek Klena, Christy Altomare, and Ramin Karimloo; Photo: Theatermania

Enter Derek Klena and John Bolton as a team of Russian hustlers who want to find a young lady they could train to pass as Anastasia to collect a reward….but they become convinced they’ve found the real one instead.

And she is played with gusto by Christy Altomare, whose rendition of ‘Journey to the Past’ brings the house down to close Act One.

Which brings me to the music, which is fittingly grand and sweeping by the team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, who are most noted for composing Broadway’s ‘Ragtime’ as well as the animated ‘Anastasia’ film.

The costume designer Linda Cho was nominated for a Tony Award- and it is easy to see why. But I was surprised the set designer was snubbed, particularly with a cool train scene that uses projections but blends animation with live action- it’s fun as well as impressive!

Mary Beth Peil, perhaps best known as Jackie on TV’s ‘The Good Wife,’ was nominated for Best Performance in a Featured Role- here as Anastasia’s grandmother.

Dancing ranges from formal to fun free form- with some ballet thrown in for good measure- but choreographer Peggy Hickey makes all of it work well.

I give ‘Anastasia’ 4 stars out of 5. Even with some cuts to the story, fans of the animated film should be pleased as well as fans of big old-fashioned romantic Broadway epics, too.

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This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”