Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Hartford Stage
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of The Call and Presto Change-O

Christy Altomare
Photo by Joan Marcus
From its opening cinematic moment, Anastasia, at Hartford Stage through June 12th, charms everyone fortunate enough to take in this grand and most becoming production. So inviting is the prologue and what directly follows, that one feels beckoned to sit down, relax and appreciate. Expected to find a home sometime on Broadway, this show, directed by Darko Tresnjak, a man simultaneously imaginative and meticulous, is a pleasure to behold.

Terrence McNally has fashioned the book for the show, which also showcases music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Peggy Hickey's choreographic choices are startlingly beautiful and Aaron Rhyne's artful projections fuel the entire presentation. Set designer Alexander Dodge moves the action forward from Saint Petersburg, Russia, during the first quarter or so of the twentieth century before the full second act transpires in 1927 Paris.

The brightest of many shining stars at Hartford Stage is actress Christy Altomare. A petite young woman with a mellifluous singing voice, she plays Anya, who escapes Russia during the revolution but has amnesia. She does somehow recall a time when she was little and life was more favorable. Now, however, she hopes to find her way to a better life and Paris. Her love interest is Dmitry, played by Derek Klena, another gifted young actor with a voice pitched beautifully for musicals. The Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna is deftly played by stage and small screen presence Mary Beth Peil. An older woman who left Saint Petersburg years ago, she has hoped that she would somehow be reunited with her granddaughter Anastasia. Yet, so many women have made claims to be the real Anastasia that this Dowager Empress has nearly given up. This musical, it should be noted and appreciated, has an element of the very fanciful to it—all to the good.

Sixty years back, an initial movie version of Anastasia was made, and in 1997 an animated film with music for which Ahrens and Flaherty furnished songs. They have carried a few tunes forward for this world premiere and added many new ones. This resplendent version mixes legend, myth and history. The musical collaborators Flaherty, Ahrens and McNally were a team for Ragtime and here they are, joyfully and fortunately, once again.

Supporting excellence abounds at Hartford Stage. During the opening sequence, Nicole Scimeca, playing Anastasia at age 6 and singing "Once Upon a December" with Mary Beth Peil, is nothing short of adorable. John Bolton as Vlad and Caroline O'Connor playing Countess Lily are both sublime. Linda Cho's costuming, throughout, is eye catching. Donald Holder's lighting shifts are notably effective.

Christy Altomare is an ascendant leading lady. Her solos, including "In My Dreams," "Crossing a Bridge," the touching "Journey to the Past," which concludes the first act, and "Everything to Win" are precious. Klena introduces "Everything to Win" first with his own solo and combines with Altomare on their splendid duet "In a Crowd of Thousands."

Toward the end of act one, several characters, aboard a train of sorts, ramble through French countryside and woods before viewing Paris in the distance. The vehicle seems to be twisting and the evolving scenography is special and really spectacular. After intermission, Tresnjak and Hickey provide the number which is, quite possibly, most sensational: "Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart)." Josephine Baker (Shina Ann Morris), Isadora Duncan (Lauren Blackman), Coco Chanel (Janet Dickinson), and especially Gertrude Stein (a laugh inducing Rayanne Gonzales) all mark the occasion. Watch, too, for cameos inclusive of Picasso and Django Reinhardt. The levity, rapid pacing, and flow of humanity of the second act opener mark its distinctiveness.

When all is said and done, this Anastasia is indelibly romantic in nature. Its scope is enormous and Hartford Stage supports stirring and sustaining songs by accentuating the warmth of the story. Can Anya possibly find her way (literally and metaphorically) to a place which will enable her peace and a measure of comfort?

The scope of the panoramic musical encourages all willing theatergoers to be transported, along with the actors, on a prolific journey. The production elements are, throughout, boldly impressive. Led by a visionary director and a compassionate female lead, this is an exhilarating, charismatic Anastasia.

Anastasia continues at Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut, through June 12th, 2016. For tickets, call (860) 527-5151 or visit