Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Spotlight Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's review of On the Town

Zoie Moller and Eeshan Kumar
Photo by Tiffany Elyse Photography
Anastasia, the stage musical inspired by the animated film of the same name and the real-life mystery of the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, is a captivating musical journey through history. With a strong cast, firm direction, and sharp creative elements, Spotlight Youth Theatre delivers a winning production of this charming and compelling tale that transports audiences into a world of romance and mystery.

The musical's plot introduces audiences to Anya (portrayed with remarkable grace by Zoie Moller), a young woman with amnesia haunted by fragments and images from her past. She gets caught up in a scheme orchestrated by two charming con men, Dmitry (Eeshan Kumar) and the lovable Vlad (Nick Runyan), Together, they navigate a quest that weaves together love and self-discovery while Anya seeks to unravel the truth about her identity and the possibility that she might be the lost Princess Anastasia.

The combination of Terrence McNally's fast-paced book, Lynn Ahrens' distinct lyrics, and Stephen Flaherty's charming music successfully captures the essence of the original animated film while introducing new elements that enhance the story's emotional depth. The musical's realistic approach eliminates the mystical elements of the film, opting for a more grounded exploration of the tragedy of the Romanov murders, the political tensions of the era, and the fate of the Russian people. However, while they contribute to character development and help to flesh out the plot into a full-length musical, the dozen added new songs never reach the heights of the film's Oscar-nominated "Journey to the Past" and there are some shifts in tone as well as some scenes that occasionally threaten to slow down the thrust of the plot.

Director Jack Taylor ensures the emotion of every scene is well acted by his cast, who all deliver warm and realistic portrayals. He makes great use of the static scenic design crafted by Brianna and Becky Funk, coupled with Aaron Rhyne's three-dimensional original Broadway projections to keep the show moving at a brisk pace. Rhyne's designs are gorgeous, cinematic transitions that make scene changes nearly instantaneous while also helping to balance out the occasional and sudden shifts in tone in the show. Audrey Wawro's costumes contribute to the authenticity of each character and the period. The lighting by Anthony Rozzen adds nuanced touches and smooth transitions. Falin Taylor's choreography is effective in the ensemble numbers, filling the stage with energy and passion, and the brief yet captivating snippet from "Swan Lake" adds a touch of elegance to the production. Ken Goodenberger's music direction achieves fairly good notes and harmonies from the large cast. However, some of the cast struggle somewhat to hold the high sustained notes that many of the songs require.

Zoie Moller's portrayal of Anya is touching and layered, capturing the character's vulnerability and strength. Moller is resilient and endearing as Anya, creating a rich, detailed portrayal of this confused yet strong young woman. Her warm singing voice adds emotional depth to her songs, which makes Anya's journey of finding out the truth of her past quite moving.

Eeshan Kumar and Nick Runyan create a winning duo as Dmitry and Vlad, infusing their characters with warmth, trust and honesty. Norine Lindeman is fantastic as the Dowager Empress, Anastasia's grandmother who has been searching for her, exuding regality, strength and command, and also realistically acting like a woman who is decades older than her actual age. Andrei Igdanes brings power and torment to the role of Gleb, the musical's main antagonist. Zoey Waller adds fun and wit to the show as Countess Lily, an old friend of Vlad's who also serves as the right hand for the Dowager Empress, providing comic relief alongside Runyan in their entertaining and humorous second act duet. The ensemble's versatility is evident as they quickly transition between roles, portraying members of the royal family, Russian peasants, and various other parts. Kiana Jeskewitz's ballet solo from "Swan Lake" is a brief yet impressive highlight.

While Anastasia may have moments that slightly slow the main plot's momentum, it successfully brings the historical rumor and legend of Anastasia Romanov effectively to the stage. Spotlight Youth Theatre's gorgeous creative elements, vibrant character portrayals, and clean direction result in a crowd-pleasing production that provides audiences with an entertaining tale of adventure, love, self-discovery, and the endearing power of hope.

Anastasia runs through February 4, 2023, at Spotlight Youth Theatre, 10620 N 43rd Avenue, Glendale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-843-8318

Director/Fight Choreography: Jack Taylor
Music Direction: Ken Goodenberger
Choreography: Falin Taylor
Scenic Design: Brianna Funk and Becky Funk
Media Design: Aaron Rhyne/ Broadway Media
Costume Design: Audrey Wawro
Hair and Makeup Design: Ian Rey Sausedo Lighting and Sound Design: Anthony Rozzen
Properties: Vicki Grossman and Kenny Grossman
Stage Manager: Maria Guadalupe Cruz

Anya: Zoie Moller
Dmitry: Eeshan Kumar
Vlad: Nick Runyan
Gleb: Andrei Igdanes
Lily: Zoey Waller
The Dowager Empress: Norine Lindeman
Gorlinsky/Count Leopold/Drunk #4: Shane Sedivy
Marfa/Smoker/Swan Lake Dancer: Emmy Lange
Paulina/Countess Gregory/Tatiana: Ava Newton
Count Ipolitoy/Sergei/Drunk #3: Owen Morris
The Tsar/Count Gregory/Drunk #1: Calvin Corey
The Tsarina/Dunya/Drunk #2: Hope Estle
Young Anastasia/Alexei: Azra Kearns
Policeman #2/Black Marketeer #1: Janella Beaver
Black Marketeer #2: Kendall Fugatt
Policeman #1/Odette in Swan Lake: Kiana Jeskewitz
Olga/Black Marketeer #3/Swan Lake Dancer: Lorna Maynard
Middle Anastasia/Swan Lake Dancer: Ava Petri
Maria/Swan Lake Dancer: Neeya Nuez