By Mary Boyle
In the late 90's, 20th Century Fox released a very popular animated film based on the legend of Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia, who was rumored to have escaped the murder of her family by a group of Bolsheviks in 1918. Part of the success of the film was due to an all-star cast, featuring Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, Kirsten Dunst, Angela Lansbury, and others, but the music earned composer David Newman, whose father composed the soundtrack for the 1956 live-action film of the same name starring Yul Brynner, an Academy Award nomination. Twenty years later, in 2017, Anastasia, the Broadway Musical, with music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and a book by Terrence McNally, premiered on Broadway, and now the national tour has made its way to Milwaukee for the Broadway at the Marcus Center series.
Directed by Darko Tresnjak, with Musical Direction by Lawrence Goldberg, the storyline remains largely the same as the animated film. We meet Anya (Lila Coogan) in St. Petersburg Russia, an orphaned young adult with amnesia who is only sure of one thing: someone is waiting for her in Paris. She is directed to Dmitry (Stephan Bower) and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer), two con-men who are hoping to find an actress good enough to fool the Dowager Empress (Joy Franz) into believing it is her granddaughter, Anastasia, so they can collect the reward she is offering. Luckily, Vlad has an in with the Dowager's lady-in-waiting, Countess Lily (Tari Kelly), if they can just manage to get out of Russia and into Paris, where the Dowager, and many other Russian imperialists, now reside. The supernatural aspects of the animated film are removed, and the villains Rasputin and Bartok are replaced by a Bolshevik soldier named Gleb (Jason Michael Evans), who is in charge of investigating any claims to the Romanov family.
Those who remember the animated film will be happy to know that the best songs were preserved for this production, including "Once Upon a December," "A Rumor in St. Petersburg," "Learn to Do It," and "Journey to the Past," but adds over a dozen new songs to make it a true musical. Coogan, as Anastasia, has an excellent voice, and her and Brower, as Dimitry, make an excellent duo, but the show stealers are Edward Staudenmayer and Tari Kelly, as Vlad and Lily, who deliver incredible performances — watch for their hysterical antics during their duet, "The Countess and the Common Man." Audiences should also be delighted by the show within the show: a mini-performance of the ballet, Swan Lake, which is very cleverly entwined into the music of the show. Fantastic costumes and a clever screen at the back of the set make for an all-around wonderful and entertaining production.
Anastasia runs through July 28th at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts Uihlein Hall, located at 929 N. Water St. in Milwaukee. Tickets may be purchased by calling 414.273.7206, or online at: https://www.marcuscenter.org/show/anastasia
Broadway at the Marcus Center has an incredibly exciting 2019-2020 season, including Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, My Fair Lady, and Miss Saigon! Learn more at https://www.marcuscenter.org/series/broadway-marcus-center-2019-2020
By Mary Boyle
Like many families in Oz, the Brotherhood family of Mequon spends time in Door County during the summer; but, while others spend their time in the shops, woods, or water, brothers Luke (16), Elliott (18) and John (20) spend most of their time on the stage — Door Shakespeare's stage, in particular.
While all three boys have been regulars in Milwaukee theatre for years, appearing frequently with First Stage and the Milwaukee Rep, the unique outdoor theatre experience in Baileys Harbor, nestled next to the Garden of Björklunden on the shore of Lake Michigan, is a venue that the brothers are particularly drawn to.
"My favorite part about working with Door Shakespeare is the special bond formed by the cast," explained Luke. "While casts tend to form a strong bond at every theatre, working at Door Shakespeare causes the company of actors to be put into situations together that would likely not happen at other theatres (such as doing shows in the rain, being stuck on a peninsula with not much around, etc.) which causes the cast to have shared unique experiences and strengthens its bond."
"Being out in the woods, we have no control over the uncontrollable," added John. "There's rain, there's wind, car alarms go off, bugs fly into actors' faces, animals creep around and, when those things happen, we get to play with them and add them to the show — that is so much fun!"
Not only do the brothers get the rare opportunity to work on the same productions, the shows, themselves, are a bit of a Shakespearean anomaly. Each season, Door Shakespeare chooses two classical plays to be performed on alternating days, and this season they chose Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor. which feature several shared characters: Bardolph, Pistol, Nym, Falstaff, and Mistress Quickly. The opportunity to see these two plays performed within the vicinity of each other is already quite rare, but the Directors, Milwaukee's Matt Daniels and Marcella Kearns, respectively, take it a step further and cast the same actors in those shared parts, meaning the actor that plays Bardolph in Henry V is also Bardolph in Merry Wives.
Elliott was cast as Henry in the First Stage Young Company's production of Henry V last year, which was also directed by Matt Daniels; Door Shakespeare was so impressed with that production, they asked Daniels to move it to the woods, which was quite a contrast from the stark, modern production in Milwaukee.
"This production of Henry is quite similar to the one I had the opportunity to do with Matt [Daniels] last year," said Elliott, who plays multiple characters in this show. "Our cast is simply incredible and the layers that my fellow actors have explored in their characters, and the story as a whole, has made the process really fascinating. The company itself is what truly makes this production so different and special. Everyone is just where they should be and placed strategically to heighten the dynamic on stage at all times. Working in the beautiful Garden at Bjorklunden is also a huge change and definitely a plus, as this time around our 'wooden O' can arguably cram at least a part of the 'vasty fields of France.'"
Unfortunately, Elliott will need to leave the run just three shows from the close of the season in order to start school at Ohio University, but John, who returns for his 4th season at Door Shakespeare after performing in both Much Ado About Nothing and Comedy of Errors with Luke last season, was able to take over for Elliott after he leaves.
"I have some big shoes to fill," John said. "Elliott is a truly terrific actor, and I am so grateful to get to learn from him in this way."
"I’ll hate to leave this band of brothers before we’re done," Elliott lamented, "but they’re in good hands with my brother, John and every single one of them is supporting me as I transition into this next big phase of life. They truly are just that: a band of brothers. A better group of people I could close out my time in Wisconsin with could never be assembled."
Though all three of the brothers will not be appearing in either of the productions together at the same time, they'll still have an opportunity to share the Door Shakespeare stage together before the August 14th production of Merry Wives at "Will in the Woods," a pre-show interactive event featuring special guests who will give more insight into the productions. During the event, audience members will "meet the Brotherhood brothers, learn about their life in the arts, and enjoy some of their musical harmonies."
While the plays share characters, they are completely different: Henry V is the final play of Shakespeare's tetralogy, which begins with Richard II and continues with Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II. In these histories, we meet the future king as Prince Harry, and see the development of his "wilder days" as he befriends the flawed but lovable Knight, Falstaff, and the commoners Pistol, Bardolph and Nym. By the time we get to Henry V, our newly crowned king has cast off his inappropriate companions, which causes the death of old Falstaff, who is mentioned, but never actually appears in the play. Henry V is all war, with a bit of romance and humor to take the edge off, but the Bard wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor just for Falstaff, who is perhaps the most beloved of all his comedic characters. In this play, the old Knight's faults are on full display and, as he tries to chase after two married women, he is made a fool of again and again, which makes for non-stop fun from start to finish.
When asked if they preferred one show over the other, all three of the brothers had a difficult time choosing. "This company specifically has a very unique and spontaneous chemistry," Elliott stated. "It goes without saying that the shows are well cast and the ranges that the company displays between the two shows are highly impressive, but everyone works off of each other in a very special way that makes for a slightly different and unpredictable show every night. I honestly can’t say that I have a favorite, since both are so good for different reasons. Merry Wives is witty and whimsical, while Henry is fast and intense. That’s a really interesting thing about the two pieces: they both captivate audiences by being fast paced and engaging, but for entirely different reasons."
"I think Door Shakespeare’s production of Henry V is unique due to our space," Luke decided. "While being in the woods adds a unique element to any production, I find it makes Henry V seem more accurate. Shakespeare wrote the majority of Act II in an outdoor setting, and I think Door Shakespeare’s space brings a new perspective on the story that can be lost in a traditional space."
John offered a good solution: "Not being onstage yet, I can only speak from an audience perspective. I absolutely love watching both; Matt's directorial style for Henry V is so appropriate to Door Shakespeare, in terms of the veil between actor and audience being torn, but Merry Wives, in large part thanks to Marcy's brilliant direction, is some of the best comedy I have seen in any Shakespeare play, ever. As mentioned above, this company is so playful, and there is a pace to the dialogue that makes it so understandable, I think, for anyone, regardless of one's knowledge of Shakespeare. This is a good, good, GOOD pair of plays and I highly encourage audience members to see both."
The Merry Wives of Windsor runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m. through August 23rd, and Henry V runs Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 5 p.m. through August 24th at Door Shakespeare, located at 8093 State Highway 57 in Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 920.839.1500. Learn more about Door Shakespeare and all of their programs at https://www.doorshakespeare.com/.