When Lin Manuel Miranda announced at the 2009 White House Poetry Jam that he was planning on writing a rap musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, he was met with outright laughter. Had Danny Baird made a similar announcement of an electronic musical about the Romanov siblings to a room full of people, it would have been met with similar mirth. However, both shows have surprisingly appropriate scores.
This musical is the brainchild of longtime friends Danny Baird and Meghan Stanton, who grew up in Baltimore and started to think about the link between modern culture and historical autocracies. In Romanov, the four daughters of the last Czar of Russia are superstars from beyond the grave, performing for one night only with their brother Alexei. Creativity abounds. For 45 minutes, they showcase their talents while telling the story of their lives and ultimately their untimely demise with music inspired by electronic pop music, young and old.
Here’s hoping that Baird and Stanton become a Capital Fringe staple.
The show opens with the Romanov children proclaiming boldly “We are Russia.” The ensemble cast carries this show like the royals that they portray.
As Alexei, Danny Baird is at times the narcissistic master of ceremonies and then at other times the heart of the show. Baird expertly balances out the popstar vocals with the character’s quiet internal moments in the song “Hemophilia.”
Allie O’ Donnell is the spunky Anastasia, the youngest of the Romanov sisters. Her song, “Dynasty” is more Janis Joplin than electronic pop, and she commands the stage from her demurrer siblings. The tongue in cheek references to the cartoon film Anastasia, and the subsequent Broadway bound musical are an adorable touch.
Director Meghan Stanton portrays Marie, the most level-headed of the Romanov sisters. Her sound is more Sia or Adele, and the closest to ordinary musicals. Stanton’s voice, and the accompanying backing vocals, are gorgeous in the melodic “Tsarskoe Selo.”
Alicia Osborn plays the second oldest, Tatiana, interestingly enough, the belter of the group. Her character’s anxious, Victorian posturing and her “Mother-isms” are a delightful and unexpected source of comedic relief in the show. In easily the catchiest song apart from “We are Russia,” her voice soars in “The Next Room.”
Last, but certainly not least to be showcased is Catherine Purcell as Olga, the eldest and the most religious. Her traditional soprano notes bring an eerie yet beautiful sound to “Rasputin & Revolution.”
The show is supplemented by a simple set (only a golden throne and microphones) and wild projections, designed by Kelly Colburn. These projections are especially effective in “Hemophilia” and “Romanov.”
It is worth noting, that when I went to see the show, there were some technical difficulties, so I didn’t get to experience Rob Silar’s lighting design. However, I will say that both I and my husband thought that the absence of lighting was an odd but intentional choice by the creative team. I think it speaks to the extreme professionalism of the actors that they played it off.
All things considered, this is the kind of show for which Capital Fringe is designed. At their best, fringe festivals are crucibles for the insanely creative and thought-provoking. Here’s hoping that Baird and Stanton become a Capital Fringe staple.
Advisory: Adult themes and language.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
It runs at the Flashpoint: Mead Theatre Lab for limited performances: July 9th @ 6:30 PM, July 12th @ 6:30 PM, July 16th @ 12:45 PM, July 22nd @ 8:30 PM, July 23rd @ 5:15 PM, and July 24th @ 4:00 PM. Click here for tickets.