If you judged Anastasia from the excitement from fans both outside and inside the theater leading up to the curtain rising, you’d surmise this was a franchise that carried a generation. In reality, although this is the Broadway debut of the show, the story dates back to the 1997 animated movie that accounts for the nostalgic look back that so many young adults were experiencing.
If you missed the sensation at that time, and in the interim decades, it’s difficult to imagine what the devotees saw in this film that left them so indelibly impacted. For them, this show surely brought them back to a childhood fantasy. For the rest of us, however, it doesn’t live up to the hype.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like. Set in Saint Petersburg and Paris, the show covers the early part of the 20th century, following the sad story of a young girl who loses everything, including her memory, and must fight to get back to where she belongs. After a Bolshevik takeover, Russia itself has to forge a new identity without kingdoms (or princesses).
The simple, recognizable plot gives the main leads room to soar, with plenty of songs that allow them to emerge from the ruins, step forward to the front of the stage, and let their impressive pipes do all the work. Most notable, Christy Altomare shines in the starring role. Beside her is Dmitry (played by Derek Klena) and his crony Vlad (John Bolton) who set the tone early on for the trio of characters with the memorable “Learn to Do It.” It’s one of the few songs in the show that succeeds in helping demonstrate motivations and back story of several characters at once, rather than solos working by their lonesome.
There’s plenty to marvel at in both acts; costumes by Linda Cho, scenery by Alexander Dodge, and lighting by Donald Holder stand out as constants worthy of acclaim and notice. The play overall, though, feels uneven. Just because you can placate an audience with a familiar, beloved story with music that’ll bring them back to another era doesn’t necessarily mean the narrative can support a two and a half hour show. For those less familiar with this story, this introduction leaves something to the imagination.