Review: Anastasia (Mirvish with Hartford Stage)

Mirvish presents the new Broadway musical Anastasia in Toronto

Anastasia, the musical, is the animated movie come to life. On stage now through the holiday season is the tale of a young peasant girl with a troubled past and a dazzling future. Could she be the long lost grand duchess Anastasia? This new musical, presented by Mirvish and directed by Darko Tresnjak, transports the audience from a winter wonderland in Russia to a glitzy Paris in the roaring 20’s.

Most will approach this musical as a fan of the Fox Studios movie of the same name, as this is a direct adaptation of the film. I approach this production as someone with a profound fascination with the rise and tragic fall of the Romanov dynasty. It’s interesting, considering the brutal massacre that befell the Romanov family, that such a fairy tale could be born from its ruins.

Anastasia begins with a whirlwind breeze through of the demise of the Romanov family. In the aftermath of the massacre, rumors spread rapidly throughout Leningrad that the youngest Romanov girl, Anastasia, is still alive. The Dowager Empress (Joy Franz) is offering a lofty reward for the safe return of her beloved granddaughter, thus opening the floodgates for a whole slew of Anastasia impostors. Dmitry (Jake Levy), a conman, and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer), a former aristocrat, decide to get in on the action. They soon run into a pretty young street sweeper Anya (ordinarily Lila Coogan, although this role was performed on December 4 by Taylor Quick) who may just fit the bill…maybe too well.

Before I could begin appreciating the performances, I was first blown away by the beautiful, ornate set designed by Alexander Dodge, paired with the great projections by Aaron Rhyne. Combined, it does make for a transporting experience as the scenery just comes to life and is stunning in its depth.

Linda Cho’s costuming took my breath away, in particular how she outfitted the Romanovs. Tsarina Alexandra (Lucy Horton) looked every bit the resplendent winter queen, with every diamond and gem on her gown and crown catching and holding onto the light.

As for the cast, the performance my guest Lindsay and I saw featured understudies Taylor Quick taking on the title role of Anya and Brad Greer performing the role of Gleb, the Soviet officer. Quick usually plays young Anastasia, and her demeanor and voice would serve that well. As the grown Anastasia, Quick definitely brings out the youthfulness — especially when she sings — and innocence in the role.

It seemed the secondary characters stole the show for me. I loved watching Staudenmayer as Vlad: he’s cheeky, with a booming bravado, and his singing voice is superb. Paired alongside Tari Kelly as Countess Lily in the second act, their duet “The Countess and the Common Man” is a hoot. What Lindsay said about Kelly’s performance is true: watching her command the stage is like watching a skit from The Carol Burnett Show.

What Lindsay and I also agreed on was that although we both certainly enjoyed the show, we didn’t love it. For a family-friendly romantic fairy tale story, the underlying foundation is that of a very vicious tragedy that’s been heavily glazed over. Music-wise, there are a few numbers that are definitely a lot of fun but don’t work to really drive the plot forward, like “My Petersburg,” and even “The Countess and the Common Man” seemed to go on for a couple of beats too long. Much of this establishing is done in the first act, which does make it feel longer. We also felt that like much of the ending, in particular certain choices that Anya makes, wasn’t earned.

But it’s not a bad show, and if you’re looking for a stage version that stays pretty close to the source material while still offering something new, Anastasia is worth seeing.

Details:

  • Anastasia is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria St) until January 12, 2020.
  • Performances run Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7:30 pm with matinees on Wednesdays and weekends at 1:30 pm.
  • See website for holiday scheduling.
  • Tickets range from $39 to $225. Group pricing is available.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, over the phone by calling 416. 872 1212, or in person at the box office.
  • Run Time: Performance runs 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission.
  • Audience Advisory: This performance contains theatrical haze and strobe light effects. Recommended for ages 7+.

Photo of Lila Coogan and Jake Levy by Evan Zimmerman.