'Anastasia,' playing at Chicago’s Nederlander Theatre for a short run, has high quality production values including beautiful sets, stunning costumes and lighting and such fantastic projections that everyone in the audience is transported to 1906 St. Petersburg and 1920s Paris in a magical moment.
The long beloved tale which was featured in the 1997 Don Bluth animated feature tells a fabled tale of the possible surviving member of Russian Royal family --- one young daughter, Anastasia. Much has been written and filmed about this ghostly figure. Almost 10 years ago a DNA analysis of a second grave put the rumors to rest. The tale lives on as an imagined and somewhat romanticized version of history and never ceases to amaze the crowds.
The addition of certain songs to this version of Anastasia, namely “Stay I Pray You” (sung hauntingly by Michael McCorry Rose as Count Ipolitov) and “In a Crowd of Thousands” are befitting and beautiful. The songs “Still” and “The Neva Flows” and both reprises should be cut from this production. But, the talent in this touring production is energetic and has the vocal and dance chops to take this on the road and entertain.
Where the show falls short is in the story and new book. The change in the villain to a character named Gleb, whose father purportedly assassinated the Romanoffs, is murky and not fully flushed out.
In addition, it presents the audience with a very weak conflict. While the actor portraying Gleb (Jason Michael Evans) makes a valiant effort and has a beautiful vocal range, they have made a grave mistake in either casting someone who is a virtual twin of the actor playing Dmitry or failing to outfit him with a wig or some make up to make the difference up. People surrounding me in the theatre were very confused why Dmitry was turned away rudely from the Paris nightclub in 1927.
Turns out, it was the Communist Gleb all along. But the lack of a strong villain is even worse. Rasputin in the film was an epic villain who the audience is expecting. At the very least the story line of a lead advisor to the Czar being Gleb’s father and then betraying him would’ve taken up a five minute scene and given better context to the entire piece.
The other conflict lacking is the relationship between Anastasia and Dmitry. This is clear even in the animated film and every other production. The Love hate relationship is abundantly flushed out in both. Here their relationship is trite and immature and there’s never a demarcation of conflict between them. Instead it bounces back and forth like a ping pong ball.
The costuming, scenic design and projections save the day. They are breathtaking and worth the trip. The train ride between Leningrad and Paris and the opening scene in the second Act introducing the audience to Paris are sights to behold. Other stand outs include Vlad played by Edward Staudenmayer and Dmitry played by Stephen Brower.
Tickets for Anastasia at Broadway in Chicago’s Nederlander Theatre
Tickets start at $27. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at 800.775.2000, and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com. The show runs through April 7,2019.
• Mary Beth Euker is a founding director of Cricket Theatre Company in Lake Zurich, Illinois, has appeared in shows at Devonshire Theatre in Skokie and Woodstock Opera House and directs at Lake Zurich Middle School North.