Review: ‘Anastasia’ presented by SHN at the Golden Gate Theater (****)

by Charles Kruger

Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) and the company of the National Tour of ANASTASIA (Photo Credit: SHN)

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

The national touring company of the Broadway hit “Anastasia” is a light-weight delight, a bon-bon encased in a setting as exquisite as an animated Faberge egg. It should delight fans of the 1956 film starring Ingrid Bergman (on which it is based) as well as the 1997 animated musical remake (which provided the songs). Its serviceable script by eminent playwright Terrence McNally is an accessible fairy tale, and parents will find this production a fine introduction to live theatre for children and young teens, especially those who have caught princess fever.

Still, one must acknowledge that the score (well played by a skilled orchestra expertly conducted by Lawrence Goldberg) is undistinguished, and the story is a charming fiction, if not an outright lie. For some, the cartoonish Russian stereotypes, the silly history, and the mediocre score will make of “Anastasia” a disappointment. But for those less cynical, this production has much to recommend it.

But first, some history:

For most of the 20th century, the myth of the survival of Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, daughter of Russian Tsar Nicholas II–the last tsar–captured the world’s imagination. It was rumored that when Soviet soldiers killed Nicholas’s family in July of 1918, the youngest daughter escaped. Subsequently, many women claimed to be Anastasia, heir to the Romanov fortune, but none were successful in making their case. It wasn’t until 2007 that DNA evidence proved conclusively that Anastasia died with her parents and siblings, and it was only a year ago that the Russian Orthodox Church accepted the findings and permitted the burial of their remains at the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg.

It is no wonder that a romantic story of such sweeping historical interest captured the imagination of screenwriter Author Laurents, who scripted the classic 20th Century Fox film, “Anastasia,” starring Ingrid Bergman as Anna Anderson, the most convincing of the claimants. The film took the claim seriously, although in real life Anna’s true identity ultimately turned out to be Polish factory worker Franziska Schanzkowskawith. Then in 1997, 20th-Century-Fox made a critically acclaimed animated version inspired by the Bergman film, with songs.

Finally–Voila!–the Broadway musical arrived in 2017, and began its National Tour a year later.

Happily, the touring company has all the pizazz that one can expect from a Broadway hit. Visually, it astonishes, from the Tony-nominated costume designs of Linda Cho to the spectacular scenic design of Alexander Dodge, and, especially the video projections of Aaryn Rhyne which convincingly move the action from street scenes in to a moving train (very exciting) to a night club in Paris, leaving the audience breathless with pleasure.

All of the singing is superior, and a novelty song & dance routine performed by Tari Kelly (as Countess Lilly) and Edward Staudenmayer (as Dmitry) is the very definition of a showstopper. And it is a special treat to see the great Joy Franz as the Dowager Empress. Franz, a veteran of many Broadway shows and National Tours, demonstrates for the youngsters what it means to do a true star turn with noblesse oblige: she’s perfect.

Add to all that a mini-performance of Swan Lake by dancers Lyrica Woodruff and Mark MacKillop, and you have everything needed for enchantment.

“Anatasia” plays at the Golden Gate Theater through September 29. For further information, click here.

Rating: **** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“Anastasia” National Touring Company of the Broadway musical presented by SHN. Book by Terrence McNally. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox Motion Pictures. Directed by Darko Trsesnjak. Choreographed by Peggy Hickey. Scenic Design: Alexander Dodge. Costume Design: Linda Cho. Lighting Design: Donald Holder. Sound Design: Peter Hylenski. Projection Design: Aaron Rhyne. Music Director: Lawrence Goldberg. 


Little Anastasia: Delilah Rose Pellow/Addison Mackynzie Valentino. Dowager Empress: Joy Franz. Tsarina Alexandra: Lucy Horton. Tsar Nicholas II: Brad Greer. Young Anastasia: Taylor Quick. Maria Romanov: Kylie Victoria Edwards. Olga Romanov: Lyrica Woodruff. Tatiana Romanov: Kourtney Keitt. Alexei Romanov: Delilah Rose Pellow/Addison Mackynzie Valentino. Countess Lily: Tari Kelly. Gleb: Jason Michael Evans. Dmitry: Stephen Brower. Vlad: Edward Staudenmayer. Anya: Lila Coogan. Paulina: Taylor Quick. Marfa: Kylie Victoria Edwards. Dunya: Kourtney Keitt. Count Ipolitov: Brad Greer. Gorlinsky: Fred Inkley. Count Leopold: Fred Inkley. Russian Doorman: Peter Garza. Count Gregory: Brad Greer. Countess Gregory: Alison Ewing. Odette in “Swan Lake”: Lyrica Woodruff. Prince Siegfried in “Swan Lake”: Mark MacKillop. Von Rothbart in “Swan Lake”: Ronnie S. Bowman, Jr. Suiters/soldiers/comrades/ghosts/Parisians/white Russians/waiters/reporters/cygnets in “Swan Lake”: Ronnie S. Bowman, Jr., Kylie Victoria Edwards, Alison Ewing, Peter Garza, Brett-Marco Glauser, Brad Greer, Lucy Horton, Mary Illes, Fred Inkley, Kourtney Keitt, Mark MacKillop, Taylor Quick, Matt Rosell, Lyrica Woodruff.





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