REVIEW: "Anastasia" — Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

"...Where an Old-Fashioned Musical Lives Happily Ever After!"

There’s an overwhelming element of excitement, a sense of anticipation in the air as we wait for the curtain to rise on a long-awaited odyssey tour that is not only visually captivating but emotionally powerful — It’s “Anastasia,” making its Center debut at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, playing from November 5th through the 17th with great ostentation.

This sumptuously enchanting fairy tale of a musical will please fully the sentimentality for those who thought the old templates for musical epics were passé, as it fills this grand theatre this night, bursting to capacity.

Inspired by the beloved films of the same name, this adventure-filled musical journey takes us from the twilight of Imperial Russia to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920’s.

Present are the broad strokes of the familiar — a romantic young couple, a villain in hot pursuit, merry-andrew supporting characters, an endearing family member — all this, performed in irresistible taste and craftsmanship. And all that’s asked is that you experience it with a willing suspension of disbelief.

That’s films, plural, if you caught that by the way, not film, and they too were titled “Anastasia.” One of them, from 1997, was an animated spectacle with talking animals and a resurrected Rasputin; the other, a previous, dignified, soapy costume drama from 1956 which starred that most un-cartoonish of actresses, the inimitable Ingrid Bergman, who won a welcome-home Oscar for it after her exile from Hollywood.

In this updated version of the Broadway musical “Anastasia,” which features a book by the acclaimed playwright Terrence McNally and songs by the Tony-winning team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (who collaborated on “Ragtime”), the author shifts between the worldviews of both inspirations, adapting the legend of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia at the center of the piece, and who may be the lone survivor in the royal family.

Largely set in Saint Petersburg and spanning two decades (1907-1927), the musical starts with a dream-like prologue in which a young Anastasia (Delilah Rose Pello, alternating with Eloise Vaynshtok) bids farewell to her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, who’s leaving for Paris.

That is the last time the Empress will see her family as all of the Romanovs are tragically killed by the Bolsheviks in a 1917 invasion — all of the Romanovs, as the legend goes, except for the Princess Anastasia.

The much cherished show premiered on Broadway in April 2017, resulting in many award nominations, including two Tony’s, nine Drama Desk, twelve Outer Critic Circles and a Chita Rivera nomination for dance and choreography. There has been a number of similar mid-20th-century musicals produced — frothy, earnest shows, set in distant times and foreign lands, with titles like "Mata Hari," and "Pleasures and Palaces." Such shows, of course, had a hard time squeezing their epic-size selves into the corsets of book-musical conventions, and most died on the vine because of it.

Fortunately, there should be no similar fate for “Anastasia,” which originated at Hartford Stage in Connecticut and is directed by Darko Tresnjak (a Tony winner for his ingenious staging of "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"). With choreography both stately and antic by Peggy Hickey, along with a first-class design team,“Anastasia” weaves an enchanting spell, tapping into a dewy-eyed demographic that has made the show such an indestructible favorite.