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