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  • Writer's pictureKara Chatham

Anastasia | Animated Film vs. Stage Production

A bit of a historical dive before we get into the details of the animated film and the broadway production: the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia was the youngest daughter of the last Tsar of Russia. She was born in 1901. In 1918 after a revolution that marked the beginning of the Soviet regime, her and her family were executed. It was confirmed in 2007 that her possible survival was officially disproved. But it is this idea of survival that gives life to the stories we will be diving into today.

SPOILER WARNING: There will be spoilers for the stories that are told by each production. If you are not interested in spoilers, then it is not advised to continue reading.

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In 1997, Twentieth Century Fox released an animated film about the legend of the missing Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov. The film was written by Susan Gauthier (The Carol Burnett Show), Bruce Graham (Tiger Cruise), Bob Tzudiker (Newsies, The Lion King), and Noni White (Newsies, The Lion King); and directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. The music was composed by David Newman. Our core cast of Anastasia, Dimitri, and Vladimir are voiced by Meg Ryan (You've Got Mail), John Cusack (Say Anything), and Kelsey Grammer (Frasier). The villain of this adaptation is Rasputin who was voiced by Christopher Lloyd (Clue).

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The story covers a little before the Tsar of Russia and his family were killed in a fire and we get to see Dimitri as a kitchen boy who helps Anastasia escape. Then we jump forward several years to when Anastasia is now Anya, a young woman who has no memory of her childhood, and Dimitri is a con-man who is just trying to find a way out of Petersburg. We are also introduced to Vladimir, Dimitri's fellow con-man who is also just interested in getting out of Petersburg. The two con-men decide to find someone to "be Anastasia" in hopes of earning the reward that the Dowager Empress (Angela Lansbury) offered for the safe return of Anastasia. When Anya stumbles into their little plot, they think they have it made. What no takes into account is that Rasputin, even though he was no longer alive, is aware of what is going on "on the surface". Which is where some of the conflict of the story takes place.

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In 2016, the animated feature as well as a play by Marcelle Maurette were used as source material for a stage musical. The music and lyrics were written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The book was by Terrence McNally. The scenic design was done by Alexander Dodge. Costume design by Linda Cho, Lighting Design by Donald Holder, Projection design by Aaron Rhyne, and Sound design by Peter Hylenski. The original core cast was comprised of Christy Altomare (Anastasia/Anya), Derek Klena (Dimitry), and John Bolton (Vlad). The "villain" of this take on the story leans a bit more towards the historical nature of the story. Gleb (Ramin Karimloo) is a "good and loyal Russian" who works for the Soviet regime.

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Diving into the production that I had the pleasure of enjoying on December 8, 2022 - the key players leading the cast were: Veronica Stern (Anya), Willem Butler (Dimitry), Bryan Seastrom (Vlad), and Ben Edquist (Gleb). For three of our leading actors, this tour was their National Tour debut - and they were fabulous! The entire production was well cast and the show they put on just sucks you into the world where Anastasia might have actually existed.

The change of antagonist shifts the emotions that exist when watching the show. First of all, Gleb is human unlike his animated predecessor. His solos offer an opportunity for empathy. In The Neva Flows, it shows how he was raised. He believed his father to be right in the choices his father made, which in turn impacts the choices he makes. In Still, we get to see him wrestling with himself and the choices he has made as well as knowing the choice he has been asked to make. Both humanize him in ways that In the Dark of the Night could never humanize Rasputin. It endears you to the character in a way that has you wondering what kind of story would we have gotten if Anya never went with Dimitry and Vlad, but instead met Gleb at the tea shop. Ben Edquist was phenomenal as Gleb! Yes, the writing was there to support him, but it was left to him to bring this character to life on stage; and I certainly was rooting for Gleb to have a change of heart with the way that Edquist portrayed him.

A few minor adjustments to Dimitry's story - for starters, he is not a kitchen boy. Which changes the moment that Anastasia and Dimitry's paths crossed. In a Crowd of Thousands is a very cute song. It adds a child-like aspect to their "meant to be" romance. I would argue that it is during this song that both Anya and Dimitry actually allow themselves to start to feel the feelings they have been shoving to the side from the moment they met. Willem Butler and Veronica Stern have excellent chemistry and it was a delight to watch them share this story on stage.

The other changes to Dimitry's story are highlighted in My Petersburg. It is through this solo that we get to learn what Dimitry has experienced and how he has ended up where we get the joy of meeting him. It's fun and shows off the confidence the character has in a way where it almost rubs off on the audience.

One of my favorite stage moments is during the Quartet at the Ballet because it sums up so much of what has happened and we get to see a bit of a meta art imitating life as the ballet that they are watching matches the member of the cast that is singing. It is a beautiful moment and it just adds another layer of fun to the show.

Overall, the experience is enjoyable beginning to end. The characters are wonderful, the cast is extradordinary, and music compliments it all! I recommend seeing it if you have the opportunity to do so!

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