Theater Review- Anastasia
Sure Bliss- yes on this extremely hot and semi cloudless Sunday in May, The Hartford Stage at exactly 2:06pm, has delivered “the” most notable event of this current summer of 2016. The birth of a new musical-“Anastasia”. Here I am after the performance, two and half hours later, still sitting in section E, row 10, seat 2 of the theater, joyfully re-visualizing what has been creatively brought forth. I am in bliss, knowing that I have just experienced what theater does best – the creation of a new and exciting theater experience and its impartment of it to a very grateful audience. Kudos to duel Papas Darko Tresnjak- Artistic Director and Managing Director Michael Stotts for delivering a most memorable, delightfully charming and visually electrifying theatrical experience. From its sets, lighting, special effects- oh those Wow-Fx’s from lilting snow flakes, wandering dancing ghosts to our heroine escaping Leningrad to France via a fast moving locomotive- unforgettable! As the Goodspeed has “Annie” – the Hartford Stage will now and forever be the creative home of the musical- “Anastasia”!
Let’s get down to the brass Faberge egg here (ahem I mean music box -$79.99 on Amazon) I loved “Anastasia” – and so will YOU! Terrence McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (Music) and Lynn Ahrens (Lyrics) have based their musical “Anastasia” – on the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia and youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra who is rumored to have survived the execution of her family by Bolshevik secret police on two previous incarnations- a 1956 historical drama film starring Ingrid Bergman as “Anna”, Yul Brynner and Helen Hayes and the Don Bluth 1997 animated musical starring the voices of Meg Ryan as “Anya”, Kelsey Grammer and Angela Lansbury. Several songs including the enchanting “Once Upon a December” and the Oscar winning “Journey to the Past” remain from the Bluth version plus several newer songs have been added to this current musical production.
The “fairytale” of sorts is that of “Anya”- (wonderfully crafted and created on stage by the incredibly talented Christy Altomare), as an 18 year old amnesiac orphan desperately trying to recall her mysterious past life and long lost family, who is taken in by two con men “Dmitry”and “Vlad”, who persuade her to impersonate the royal Anastasia in hopes of extorting the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna-(imperially portrayed by the grand Mary Beth Piel) for title and riches.
In regards to our actors- Firstly I am in love with Mary Beth Piel as the Dowager Empress-( many of you might recognize Mary Beth as “Grams” on “Dawson’s Creek”) she majestically sets the tone “of excellence” for the entire production during the very first scene with her song “Once Upon a December”- and throughout the production- a lovely lady with an impressive voice! John Bolton as “Vlad”and Caroline O’Connor as “Countess Lily” comedically steal the show whenever they are on stage- both “Land of Yesterday” and the “Countess and the Common Man” are sure-shot show pleasers. Finally, Christy Altomare, I am expecting big things from this gal from Bucks County, PA. Her birthday is right around the corner on June 23rd- but it is she who has given us the gift of her incredible talent, passionate acting and expressive vocals, and we must note, she is the “first” to create the role of “Anastasia” at the Hartford Stage.
In my role of critic three things I would suggest need a bit of a tweak– The villain- we need a darker more “hiss-able” antagonist in “Gleb” (portrayed by Manoel Felciano) – such example as Arch Villain Citizen Chauvelin from “The Scarlet Pimpernel” comes to mind. I would even add a devilish Rimsky-Korsakov – Gopak (Cossack Dance) to the mix- (Think Captain Hook’s Tarantella in Peter Pan).
Two- for a musical based in Russia with Russians- where’s the Ynet? They don’t have a single menacing Russian accent among them- think Boris Badenov or Rosa Klebb/Lotte Lenya – hey! where’s a Han Conried when we need him?
Three – The romance between “Anya” and “Dmitry” (Derek Klena) should be enhanced- I don’t get a real sense that they “love” each other- suggestion: as in the Bluth cartoon, add the back story that Dmitry helped Anya escape from the Murdering Bolsheviks. Old love reunited.
I do predict, in quick succession the following: this production will go on to be a major “hit” on Broadway; that next November, during the televised Macy’s Day Parade you will see “Anastasia” production highlights; continuing on till next June at the Tonys- Anastasia will achieve best new musical, plus Tonys for Christy and Mary Beth. Additionally, “Anastasia”- originally both a movie, currently a stage production, I truly believe “Anastasia” the musical will once again be turned into a Hollywood movie blockbuster, released in December with every child wanting their own Anastasia music box for Christmas or at least an “Anastasia” Hallmark Christmas tree ornament. Yep- you will soon see Christy Altomare’s face everywhere!
Lastly- This is a true musical phenomenon- a well put together production meant to be seen on Broadway and beyond. Enjoy.
Tickets for the Hartford Stage production of “Anastasia” are on sale now and can be purchased by calling (860) 527-5151 or by visiting http://www.hartfordstage.org. The production runs through June12th. Weeknight and evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are Saturdays, Sundays and select weekdays at 2 p.m.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howardbatv@aol.com.