The curses and evil wizard in the animated-movie version of Anastasia are gone from the live musical Hartford Stage version, but that doesn’t mean the magic is gone. With sets and costumes that transport the ordinary to extraordinary, Hartford’s Anastasia has magic in the acting, music, set, and costumes. It is director Darko Tresnjak’s stunning vision that makes this production Broadway bound.
Even though it could use a little more exposition before the family Romanov is shot up and even though it could use a meaner villain that would lend itself to the rising action and a more powerful climax, this pre-Broadway run is so gorgeous that audiences went wild for it opening weekend. They cheered, whistled, and applauded most songs and swooned over the set and costume changes of which there are many and all of which deserved the oohs and ahhs of appreciation.
Had the acting and vocals of the entire cast not been so superior, the set would have once again upstaged the production as it did in Hartford Stage’s production ofRear Window. However, such is not the case with Anastasia thanks to the passionate performances of Christy Altomare, Mary Beth Peil, Derek Klena, and John Bolton. Nothing stops them from delivering unforgettable characters. Christy Altomare as Anya is an emotional lift to the beautiful songs she sings with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s music. Her stellar performance turns Anastasia into a living, breathing princess. Mary Beth Peil plays the ultra-sophisticated yet loving Nana with uncanny ease.
The book by Terrence McNally with Flaherty’s music and Ahrens’ lyrics is inspired by the real life mystery of Anastasia as well as by the Twentieth Century Fox film. However, this is not the movie live on stage. It has far more realistic and historic background now and has adult appeal as well as being appropriate for children at least 10 years of age. This Anastasia is about a young girl who has lost her memory and two scheming men who believe she can convince the Dowager Empress that she is Anastasia, the Dowager’s long lost grandchild and surviving member of the Romanov family, which was brutally executed by Russian revolutionaries.
Derek Klena is not only one of the schemers, but plays Anya’s love interest. Klena’s role is a bit understated in the production, but the actor brings verisimilitude to every second he is on stage. John Bolton as Vlad Popov adds humor as does Caroline O’Connor as the Empress’s assistant.
The other stars in this show may not be seen, but shine just as brightly as the others. They include, first and foremost, Alexander Dodge’s scenic design. The sets are spectacular with turn tables and props that transport action from the elaborate and palatial marble ballroom to many other locales. Linda Cho’s costumes are extraordinary and feature jeweled gowns that sparkle like diamonds in exquisite settings. Donald Holder’s lighting design turns a scene into a blood-red execution and sound designer Peter Hylenski accents the action. The video and projection designer, Aaron Rhyne will most likely win some awards for his incredible work. The most unforgettable scene is when Anya and the two men board a train for Paris. Thanks to impeccable timing, the onstage train stays on the projected track seamlessly. Kudos to Rhyne.Thomas Murray is the music director with Peggy Hickey the choreographer. Hickey manages to stage a beautiful segment of Swan Lake as well as classic Russian dance and 1920s Charleston in one show. All are done perfectly. Director Darko Tresnjak has creativity running through his veins and makes it apparent in his lively productions.
Anastasia runs through June 12. Box office: 860-527-5151.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]