“Anastasia: The Musical” is the story of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. The youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the entire family was brutally murdered by Bolshevik soldiers in the Russian Revolution—but did Anastasia actually survive? With a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the 2017 Broadway musical is loosely based on Don Bluth’s 1997 animated film and features songs I hummed all the way home, an outstanding cast, and ingenious video projections which transported the audience to Russia and Paris near the start of the 20th century.
…an outstanding cast, and ingenious video projections…
A brief prologue begins the musical. The Grand Duchess Anastasia’s grandmother gives her a music box before moving to Paris in 1907. In 1917, members of the Russian Revolution seize the palace and murder the entire royal family. It is now 1927, after the revolution, and street sweeper Anya (Reese Bruning) goes to Dmirty (Shahmeer Mirza) and Vlad Popov (Max Oxbolt) to inquire about exit papers. Hearing the rumor that Anastasia might be alive, Dmitry and Vlad decide that Anya would be the perfect impersonator for Anastasia. They take her under their wing and train her to be the lost princess, with the goal of bringing her to Anastasia’s grandmother in Paris and collecting a reward. Meanwhile, Gleb (Ethan Howard), a Soviet officer pursues Anya, trying to discover whether she’s the real deal. But will Anya be able to convince her grandmother of her real identity?
Reese Bruning is a delightful Anya, with a beautiful voice and great stage presence. Shahmeer Mirza as Dmitry and Max Oxbolt as Vlad Popov are the con artists you can’t help but like, especially when they take Anya under their wing and ensure she knows all the information to prove she’s the real Anastasia. Ethan Howard is wonderful as the tormented Gleb, a soldier who knows he has to follow in his father’s footsteps.
The show has some beautiful dancing, typical of the Romanov balls, by choreographer Rachel Miller. With the cast dressed in extravagant white dresses, thanks to costume coordinator Robyn Alvarez, the audience is brought back to the time before the Russian Revolution. Projection designer Diane M. Smith set the stage with a video screen in the background showing moving images of the sea and the train tracks so it appears as if the trio is actually riding the train. The train car, full of aristocrats and intellectuals, is beautifully designed, with crew pulling the car to show the cast from different angles.
This is a musical that brings you back in time to ‘once upon a December.’ More than that, it’s a history lesson about the Russian Revolution. Although it can be argued that a time like this in history isn’t quite the right setting for a musical, I disagree. This period lends itself to the opulence of the Romanovs, the drama of the revolution, the seizing of the palace, and the heartbreak of the Russian people.
Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
“Anastasia: The Musical” runs through October 8, 2023 at Children’s Playhouse of Maryland in residence at CCBC Essex, 7201 Rossville Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21237. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online or call the box office 443-840-ARTS.