Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of King John
The touring production of Anastasia, now in the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, is a solidly performed, visually opulent version of a rather old-fashioned musical. Compared with more innovative recent works, Stephen Flaherty (music), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), and Terrence McNally (book) have crafted an episodic work with strongly delineated characters and (at times) an excess of plot.
Anastasia is the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II (Michael McCorry Rose) and Tsarina Alexandra (Lucy Horton), the last rulers of Imperial Russia. The audience first sees her as a child (Victoria Bingham) in 1906, saying goodbye to her beloved grandmother the Dowager Empress (Joy Franz), who is returning to her home in Paris. Then, as depicted in racing choreography by Peggy Hickey, the Russian Revolution sweeps away the tsar and his family, and the new government changes the name of St. Petersburg to Leningrad. Despite the official comments about the downfall of the aristocracy leading to a better life for the poor, a lot of Russians are struggling and starvingand convinced that Anastasia somehow survived the slaughter of her family.
In 1927, Dmitry (Stephen Brower), a young con man, and his friend Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer), a pretended nobleman, decide to find a poor, desperate woman, turn her into Anastasia, then take her to Paris and claim the generous reward offered by the Dowager Empress. Anya (Lila Coogan), a beautiful young woman with no memory of her past, seems like the perfect subjectbut is it possible she really is Anastasia? (The scenes of Dmitry and Vlad teaching Anya about royal lineages and appropriate manners seem almost a parody of the similar educational process in My Fair Lady.)
Franz is indomitable and moving, Coogan is radiant, Brower stalwart, Staudenmayer droll (his later scenes with imperial lady-in-waiting Tari Kelly recall the days when most musicals had a comic secondary couple), and Jason Michael Evans impassioned as a Soviet official determined to stop Anya one way or another.
Director Darko Tresnjak keeps the pace fast as the action shifts from the tsar's Winter Palace to the slums of Leningrad and a vast Soviet government office, from a skeletal train car escaping Russia (Aaron Rhyne's projections add to the propulsive feel of the scene) to the colors and architectural glories of Paris, all enhanced by Donald Holder's lighting design. Linda Cho's most impressive costumes glitter with sequins, complemented by tall, jeweled crowns.