By Lucy Komisar
Complex, fascinating and gorgeous, this fantasy tale of the young woman who might be the surviving daughter of Czar Nicholas of Russia is a colorful musical mystery with elegant singing, marvelous dancing and costumes that light up the stage.
With a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, it features the top talents of Broadway. That goes for director Darko Tresnjak and choreographer Peggy Hickey, who have “big Broadway show” written all over them.
A glittery Russian aristocrats ball is interrupted in 1917 by the red fire of the revolution. And soldiers with rifles marching the Czar and the Romanov family to their doom.
Ten years later in Leningrad, young Dmitry (the very appealing Derek Klena) has an idea to exploit the rumor that the Czar‘s child, Anastasia, escaped the hail of bullets. The Dowager Empress (Mary Beth Peil), Nicholas‘ mother, who was in Paris at the time, is desperate to find the girl, and whoever persuades her that the child is genuine will be rich. There are many pretenders.
Dmitry and his friend Vlad (John Bolton) determine to find a likely young women and train and educate her about everything the young Anastasia would know.
And then, they find Anya (Christy Altomare) who has amnesia. Could she be Anastasia? Altomare has a sweet colorful singing voice and is a charmer. They take up abode in a ruined palace, with visual ghosts of the past, and as the snowy winter turns to spring, she will learn the family tree and stories. Aaron Rhyne‘s projections are stunning, with lifelike onion domes and canals.
But Gleb Vaganov (Ramin Karimloo), an intelligence officer who happens to meet Anya, becomes attracted and suspicious. He will be her Javert, following the trail of this adventure.
Finally, Dmitry, Vlad and Anya take the train to Paris from the Finland Station. That place is famous, because Vladimir Lenin arrived there on his journey from Switzerland to Russia in April 1917.
In the play, Russian aristocrats fleeing the Communists gather on the platform. The train moves through a striking landscape of trees. (Wonderful projections by Rhyne.) But the three are identified and jump off the train before the Polish border. The musical is inspired by the movie “Anastasia,” and parts like this are truly cinematic.
Of course, they get to Paris, viewed in Rhyne‘s gorgeous videos, including Pont Alexander III with the Grand Palais in the background. That most ornate bridge in the city was named after Anastasia‘s grandfather, the husband of the grandmother Anya must persuade she is kin.
“Paris holds the key,” done by the three refugees (which of course they were) is a smash. Now women have marcelled hair and everyone dances the Charleston.
The Russian expats enjoy life at the Neva Club, and do a terrific, “Let‘s live in the land of yesterday” to 1920s music. Countess Lily (the wonderfully talented Caroline O‘Connor) does a show-stopping “Once I had a palace….” And with Vlad, who turns out to be an old love, the tongue-in-cheek “The Countess and the Common Man.”
But the dancing and costumes at the Paris Opera – and throughout the show — are not common at all. Chapeaux to choreographer Peggy Hickey and costume designer Linda Cho.
The story itself is rather hokey. Will Anya persuade the lonely Dowager Empress she is her granddaughter? The Romanovs were real people, and it’s a challenge to finesse the truth. So, forget that part. With Klena and Altomare, both in fine voice, this production enchants.
“Anastasia.” Book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Directed by Darko Tresnjak, choreographed by Peggy Hickey. Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street, New York City. 212-239-6200. Opened April 24, 2017. 5/15/17.