Anastasia is not a Disney musical. The musical is inspired by the Anastasia movie starring Ingrid Bergman (1956) and the Anastasia animated movie, released by Fox in 1997 — and not by Disney, as many people think. However, the touring production of Anastasia at Capital One Hall in Tysons Corner conveyed its own sense of magic with lush costumes, a pretty score, and a gifted cast.
The musical adapts the legend of a Russian grand duchess named Anastasia who may have escaped the execution of her family. While this touring production of Anastasia does not have all the special effects of a Disney musical, scenic and projection designers Alexander Dodge and Aaron Rhyne do a wonderful job using gigantic screens to transport the audience to the streets of St. Petersburg with precise details. Even the details of the Paris Opera are reproduced on the stage of Anastasia. The speed with which the scenes change in front of your eyes also enchants — and transports you between the show’s many locations — be it the charming Alexandre III bridge or the train station in St. Petersburg. Indeed, the screens enhance not only the scenery but also the characters. In larger ensemble numbers the scenery on the screens would stay bright and vivid. In other scenes with one or two actors on stage, the screens would begin with color and then fade seamlessly into lovely sepia tones which framed the actors with more intimacy.
It’s nice to realize that Anastasia is not a fairytale, and her path does not lead to a “happy ever after” with a prince. The lead character holds her own as a strong young woman. Actor Veronica Stern was amazing as the feisty and smart Anya, who sets out to discover the mystery of her past, and she transmitted sincerity in her self-doubt about who she might be. Stern’s voice was both effortless and beautiful, and she did not disappoint with her comic timing and dancing. Willem Butler portrayed the perfect Dmitry with boyish charm and a flawless voice, and played the chemistry well with his Anya as they argue while having a hint of attraction for each other.
Christian McQueen’s rich and powerful voice was a force to be reckoned with as Gleb, the dedicated member of the Bolsheviks who rule post-Tsar Russia with an iron fist. While not quite the villain, the combination of his voice and physical expressions expressed both the character’s unwavering sense of duty and vulnerability as he struggles with compassion for Anya. In some productions of Anastasia, the Dowager Empress is depicted as feeble and a bit dramatic, but Gerri Weagraff conveyed her role with a bit more backbone and determination of character. A favorite of the crowd was certainly Countess Lily, played by Madeline Raube. Raube had some very funny scenes and her talent for physical comedy was evident as she played opposite equally talented Bryan Seastrom as Vlad.
Sometimes I have found orchestras to be overwhelmingly loud and unbalanced in big production musicals, but a happy compliment goes to Sound Designer Peter Hylkenski, Orchestrator Doug Besterman, and the whole touring orchestra on this production for a seamless performance. Costuming by Linda Cho and hair and wig design by Charles G. Lapointe were just gorgeous. The choreography by Bill Burns was really well done. The overall ensemble was effective and versatile in character, portraying poor Russians on the street to rich partygoers and royalty with great harmonies and clear diction.
Let’s face it, bloody periods of history, like the Russian Revolution, do not naturally lend themselves to perky song and dance. But there has been enough fascination with the legend of a surviving Anastasia in popular culture that makes for a good story. If you like traditional musicals with wonderful sets, good singing, and choreography by a strong cast in a historical story, the North American touring production of Anastasia certainly delivers.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 25 minutes, including one intermission.
The North American touring production of Anastasia played from February 3 to 5, 2023, at Capital One Hall, 7750 Capital One Tower Rd, Tysons, VA.
Book by Terrence McNally
Music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens
The complete Anastasia cast, creative, and production credits are here.
For information about Broadway in Tysons shows coming next to Capital One Hall — R.E.S.P.E.C.T. and On Your Feet! — click here.