Opening to a full house with nearly 3,000 seats, Anastasia has brought the opulence of the Romanov family to Austin with visual splendor fit for royalty thanks to Lexus Broadway in Austin presented by Texas Performing Arts.
Set in land of yesterday, Anastasia comes to life as the new Broadway musical takes audiences on a journey to the past. After the last dance of the Romanovs has ushered in the Russian Revolution, a rumor in St. Petersburg has it that the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II may have have escaped certain demise. But in a crowd of thousands, the rumors never end and Paris holds the key as Dowager Empress grows tired of impersonators pretending to be the long lost royal. When a pair of misfits with nothing to lose and everything to win meet a woman that may truly be Grand Duchess Anastasia, they hatch a plan to escape to Paris to close the door on the mystery and claim a hefty prize in the process.
Having grown up with the 1997 animated film, I was a bit disappointed at the removal of Grigori Rasputin, but age has taught me that, historically speaking, he would have been dead by the time of the events of the production. That being said, replacing the Russian mystic with Gleb — a general for the Bolsheviks — makes for a bit of an anticlimactic final act. His backstory is compelling, but for a story from such a bloody time in history, one would expect a bit more bravado in the physical drama department.
Visually, Anastasia is truly a sight to be seen. Alexander Dodge’s scenic design is gorgeous on its own merit, but coupled with the projection design from Aaron Rhyne the stage has a new level of depth and dimension. I think it’s safe to say that this is theatre presented in a manner not often seen — but perhaps it should be. It’s certainly not an easy task to undertake, but Rhyne and Dodge have created a visual treat that should be admired. Linda Cho has spared no detail in costume design, creating beautifully detailed pieces that bring life to a family long past and an era nearly forgotten on this side of the world.
Lila Coogan gives a solid performance in the lead role, with a strong vocal delivery across the board. She’s a bit tepid in her movement from time to time, but overall her dedication to the role outweighs the negatives. The chemistry between Stephen Brower and Edward Staudenmayer, who play Dmitri and Vlad respectively, is well played throughout the show. The comedic timing is worthy of praise, but the duo shine brightest through balancing each other out — Brower having the stronger vocal ability and Staudenmayer having more to offer in visual antics. Joy Franz thrives as Dowager Empress, carrying the role with just the right amount of sas and dignity shrouded in the melancholy hope of a grandmother longing for the land of yesterday. Jason Michael Evans holds his own as the antagonist, though not exactly as intimidating as 6-foot-4 supernatural mystic with a talking bat for a sidekick. That said, his vocal presence cannot be ignored.
For a production to have such a large cast, it almost feels like a disservice to most of them, who only serve as living set pieces. With the Romanov family being ghosts for the majority of the time and many people making only a handful of appearances, it’s easy to image trimming some of the fat to either cut down on the runtime or at least steer the story in a different direction.
All-in-all, the acting and performances in Anastasia are worthwhile and the visual spectacle is definitely one worth seeing. While it’s hard to compete with the likes of its Academy Award nominated animated source material, the new Broadway musical holds its own — even without a talking bat.
If you aren’t able to get to the show before it leaves Austin on February 17, Anastasia will be showing in Houston at The Hobby Center March 5 through March 10. Tickets start at $35 and are available by phone at (800) 982-2787; online at www.TheHobbyCenter.org or www.BroadwayAtTheHobbyCenter.com
Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set unafraid to take on topics head on. He now resides in Austin, TX and continues to create content on a daily basis.