Story: It’s an idyllic life in 1907 for Anastasia Feodorovna, a grand duchess and youngest daughter of Russian Czar Nicholas II of the Romanov dynasty and his wife, Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna. She’s especially delighted when her grandmother, Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, visits from Paris and brings Anastasia a music box as a gift.
A decade later, the czar and his family are imprisoned by the Bolsheviks as communists gain power in Russia, changing the name of St. Petersburg to Leningrad. The Romanovs all are executed, but rumors persist that youngest daughter Anastasia somehow survived the slaughter and is living incognito, still in Russia.
A young con man named Dmitri and his partner, an old Russian aristocrat named Vladimir, interview countless young women in the hope of finding one who resembles Anastasia closely enough to pass her off as the real deal and thus reap the reward offered by her grandmother in France if proof of her granddaughter’s survival can be verified.
Into their lives walks a young woman named Anya, a street sweeper known to Gleb Vaganov, a Bolshevik officer committed to eradicating any remnant of the Romanov empire in honor of his own late father’s wishes. Anya claims she doesn’t even know who she is, as she suffered amnesia years ago and was raised in an orphanage.
Dmitri and Vladimir are struck at Anya’s uncanny resemblance to Anastasia and begin to tutor her about the history of the missing grand duchess in hopes of convincing the Dowager Empress of her authenticity. With the pressure on them, the trio escape Russia and travel to Paris, where Vlad meets his former lover, Countess Lily, now in service to Dowager Empress Marie.
Meanwhile, Vaganov also travels to Paris after hearing Anya has surfaced there, determined to kill her. Will he assassinate Anya before she can meet with the Dowager Empress? And will Dowager Empress Marie believe that Anya is actually Anastasia? Dmitri by now is convinced that Anya and Anastasia are one and the same, and in either case he is in love with her. But can he save her?
Highlights: The talented team behind the historical musical Ragtime regroup for this vastly entertaining and well-constructed musical investigation of one of the great mysteries of the 20th century, making Anastasia a rewarding historical musical in its own right.
Other Info: Composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens and writer Terrence McNally, who collaborated on the hit 1998 musical Ragtime, score again with this melodious and well-written tale based on a play and two movies (one animated) about the real Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, youngest daughter of the last Romanov czar of Russia.
After Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed during the Russian Revolution of 1917, rumors repeatedly insisted that youngest daughter Anastasia had managed somehow to escape. For decades various women claimed to be the real Anastasia, the most prominent of which was a woman named Anna Anderson, who died in 1984.
Anderson was the basis for a play by Marcel Maurette as well as a 1956 film starring Ingrid Bergman, who won an Oscar for Best Actress in the title role. An animated movie in 1997 added different characters, including Rasputin, to its story.
The musical version debuted in 2016 and arrived on Broadway in 2017, where it continues its open-ended run. McNally has said, “The libretto is a blend of old and new...There are characters in the musical that appear in neither the cartoon nor the Ingrid Bergman version.”
Whatever the reasons, the musical works very well with its blend of appealing and interesting characters. Vaganov is a more complex villain than the cartoon's Rasputin, as evidenced in the touring version at The Fox in the well-wrought portrayal by Jason Michael Evans.
Likewise, Stephen Brower is highly likable as small-time con man Dmitri, making his would-be romance with Anya all the more palatable. Edward Staudenmayer brings flair and an appealing joie de vivre to former aristocrat Vlad, pairing amusingly with the entertaining Tari Kelly as Countess Lily on the show’s best dancing number, The Countess and the Common Man.
Joy Franz is effective as the imperious Dowager Empress Marie, especially stern in her meetings with Anya in Paris, steeling herself against more disappointment by still another impostor. In the title role, Lila Coogan is convincing both in her fine acting performance as well as demonstrating her strong, clear voice on such tunes as In My Dreams and the Act I closer, Journey to the Past.
The show’s best musical tune is the invigorating The Rumors Never End in the first act. There are countless songs, though, throughout the two-and-a-half-hour production which are highly hummable and accessible to an audience, thanks to Flaherty’s energizing and appealing music.
The scenic design by Alexander Dodge is endlessly charming, buoyed by a steady stream of eye-popping background projections designed by Aaron Rhyne, the most amazing of which is the train ride taken by Anya, Dmitri and Vlad out of Russia.
Also adding to the marvelous technical look of the show are Donald Holder’s panoramic lighting design of background battle scenes, the explosive sound design contributed by Peter Hylenski and some lavish costumes by designer Linda Cho, complemented by the hair/wig design of Charles G. LaPointe and makeup design by Joe Dulude II.
Director Darko Tresnjak keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, complemented with Peggy Hickey’s pleasant choreography. Music director Lawrence Goldberg conducts a lively reading of the score by the orchestra, including local musicians from St. Louis Local 2-197, AFM.
Modern DNA testing verified that a mass grave discovered in Russia in 1991 did actually contain all but two bodies from the czar’s family. The other two were verified in 2007 at another burial site, thus putting to rest the mystery of Anastasia and her possible survival after the mass execution of the czar’s family in 1917.
Nonetheless, this musical telling of the enduring myth of Anastasia is handsomely crafted and well worth your time.
Company: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through January 6
Tickets: $27-$104; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade