Dallas — The legend of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, daughter of Imperial Russia’s doomed Tsar Nicholas II, receives another adaptation in the newest Broadway musical to arrive at the Music Hall at Fair Park. Dallas Summer Musicals presents Anastasia, created by the same time behind Ragtime. Inspired by and using songs from the 1997 Twentieth Century Fox animated movie, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens provide new music and lyrics for the show, with book by Terrance McNally and direction by Darko Tresnjak. Musical director Lawrence Goldberg conducts the orchestra.
Material from the 1956 film also appears in the musical, which takes the general story arc of both adaptations. After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, in which the Tsar was overthrown and murdered with his family, a rumor still floats around the bleak streets of Communist Russia that one royal daughter Anastasia survived. Spurred by the promise of the Dowager Empress’ (Joy Franz) reward for her granddaughter’s return, imposters flood the old woman’s Parisian home, but Dmitry (Stephen Brower) and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer) hope to pull off “the biggest con in history.”
They find their actress in Anya (Lila Coogan), an amnesiac young woman with strong Romanov resemblance, and proceed to coach her for the role, while trying to make their way to Paris. The road is filled with obstacles, and Anya’s journey brings up more questions than answers, a dilemma that she hopes will be resolved upon meeting the Empress.
A notable departure from the animated version is the absence of Rasputin, the film’s key villain. Instead, the quest to complete the obliteration of the royal family falls into the hands of Gleb (Jason Michael Evans), a Soviet officer determined to rid his country of any semblance of the past and the subsequent hope it may bring. That drastic change might seem jarring to fans of the movie but considering the focus of the 1997 rendition was a fairytale geared towards the younger generation, the choice of villain makes sense in the end.
As a whole, the production makes for a delightful evening, but certain key elements make it less enjoyable than it could have been. One facet that’s always on point, however, is its visuals. Alexander Dodge’s lovely scenic design pops with stunning projections by Aaron Rhyne, and Linda Cho’s aristocratic and royal costumes dazzle with stunning brilliance. The contrast between Communist Russia’s severe drabness and the opulence of the aristocrats and royals heightens the experience and sometimes even upstages the performances.
Songs are a mixed bag. The list of musical numbers is fairly lengthy, with about 75 minutes of music total. Favorites from the animated film include “Once Upon a December,” “Rumor in St. Petersburg,” “Journey to the Past,” and “Paris Holds the Key,” all of which receive a remarkable staging (with choreography by Peggy Hickey). Gleb’s songs portraying his stalwart commitment to his work and moral crisis of duty are quite powerful.
Ahrens and Flaherty cleverly snuck in Rasputin’s film tune with the haunting, heartbreaking “Stay, I Pray You,” sung by former Imperial nobles and the main trio as they say goodbye to Russia. Michael McCorry Rose’s sorrowful solo and the vocal unity of the ensemble make it one of the best moments of the evening. The company later takes an entertaining turn with the jazzy “Land of Yesterday,” as they reminisce about their former lives, complete with sprightly Russian folk dance.
Several tunes, however, are simply superfluous and forgettable within the storyline. Individually, they produce lively moods or contemplative moments, making for a charming cast album, but they drag down the production’s pacing, making the first act especially crawl.
The most stellar individual performances of the evening come from supporting cast. Evans’ passion and top-notch vocals fulfill Gleb’s moral journey throughout the production. Staudenmayer’s animated portrayal of Vlad and impressive dancing skills make every song with him an absolute joy to watch. His duet with Tari Kelly (as Countess Lily), “The Countess and the Common Man,” brings the audience to uproarious laughter and tears with their exaggerated delivery of a romantic reunion, garnering the most applause of the evening.
Coogan’s intense Anya has strong, consistent vocals throughout. This results, however, in a forced delivery, and her powerful belting comes across as yelling most of the time. She demonstrates a nice variety in other songs, so she’s definitely capable of a range. It’s a bit disappointing that she doesn’t employ it more evenly. Brower conveys a charming Dmitry, although his vocals aren’t as consistent as others.
Running a little over two-and-a-half hours with intermission, it mostly lives up to the hype, even with its drawbacks. Although it doesn’t have the fantastical mystery of the animated film, it still likely appeals to children. The siege of the palace in the beginning might be frightening to younger kids, and the pacing at some moments could make them lose interest. As a whole, it’s an enchanting musical, with plenty of moments to enjoy and savor.