As Broadway’s Anastasia makes its way across Texas, it’s reigniting the imaginations of countless Texans and inspiring even more through its beauty, creativity and relation to true events. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to speak with Ronnie S. Bowman, Jr., who plays multiple ensemble roles throughout the production as well as Von Rothbart in the Swan Lake sequence of the show.
In a cast of nearly 30, Bowman is one of two Black people to take the stage in the production, and I was able to pick his brain about his experience with Broadway’s Anastasia and what it’s like being a part of the first North American tour.
“Being able to bring a classic animated film like Anastasia — a film I grew up on — is so exciting and a little scary,” Bowman admitted. “I didn’t realize until we started the tour how huge the Anastasia following is, which means they are all aware of the show, the story and music. It became the entire company’s goal to create a show that would meet or surpass their expectations. We have many people at the stage door every night expressing their love for both the film and the musical. Our “fanastasias” are amazing and so devoted to the show. They have been waiting years for Anastasia the film to become a stage play and it is so special to see how excited and appreciative the audience is every night. It is also amazing being the first National Tour. Many have a hard time getting to NYC so being able to bring Broadway to them and be the first company of Anastasia they have ever seen is so special.”
In case you’re unfamiliar with the Broadway production, there’s a few differences to know before you go — mainly that the antagonist is different, taking away the supernatural elements and talking animal sidekick from the 1997 classic. But don’t let that steer you away from getting a seat in the theatre, because the show is stunning to say the least.
“The biggest similarities are all of the basic information that creates a base for the entire plot. For instance, her name being Anya, a girl who is suffering from amnesia but believes in her heart that her destiny is in Paris. However, our show is not a replica of the animated film. Our playwright, Terrence McNally did an amazing job at created a whole new adventure for Anastasia to go on throughout our show, while keeping the integrity of the story. He used his own creativity and ideas to give us the heart of Anastasia while bringing new elements to the story and enhancing all factors for the stage.”
If you’ve read my review from the Austin stop of the tour, then you’ll know that this production has made some changes to bring life to the story and not be forced to live in the shadow of the animated feature film. Although, I’m still irked at the lack of Rasputin, Bowman understands the creative direction of Broadway’s Anastasia, and embraces the changes.
“The effect it has had on me as the actor is a level of freedom. I wasn’t locked into doing a box of what the movie portrayed,” he explained. “The fact that our show is not a replica of the movie allows the actor to explore character choices, and character development. We got to create our world in rehearsal and then build upon that during technical rehearsals and preview performances. I would say the affect this show has on the audience is now a great sense of female power and bravery. We meet a girl who doesn’t have a lot but she does have determination, bravery, and drive. She teaches three men in the show how to love, and forgive just simply by being herself. This says a lot to men and women. We must always follow our heart and not give up despite what others may say or think about us.”
When asked about his nightly ritual for getting into character, Bowman recalled a routine he learned early in his acting career that he still follows to this day, which allows him to step out of his life and into the role with a clear mind and nimble body.
“Usually I like to get to the theater about 30 minutes prior to call time, which gives me an hour before the show starts,” Bowman explained. “I begin every show with rolling my muscles out with a foam roller and lacrosse ball. I can’t do a show without rolling out my body. Then I do a basic ballet barre sequence to get my muscles and joints moving. This also gives me a chance to check in on my technique and prepares me for the ballet in act two. I then do my makeup, warm up vocally and then head to the stage. I always say a prayer every night. I focus my mind and before I run out onstage, every night I shake my hands and exhale. I learned this trick from an actor and it symbolizes shaking off your day, the baggage from the day and allowing yourself to enter the play with a clear mind.”
Being a part of such a talented cast comes with its pros and cons, and Bowman is happy to be among good company, but it’d be remiss of me to not ask about personal favorites within the team.
“First, let me start by saying this is a stellar cast full of true professionals. I learn from everyone daily, seriously. There is so much knowledge in this cast, as well as humor, talent and consistency. It makes it easy to go to work everyday,” he admitted. “Now, that being said, I love being onstage with my friend, Claire Rathbun. She is such a hard working artist; humble, sweet, and, so determined but also so funny. She makes me laugh so much and keeps the show fresh. We have moments onstage but every night they are different and that keeps the show feeling fresh and new. She leaves the company in two weeks to start her next adventure but her smile and bubbly personality will be so missed.”
As the tour continues across the country, Bowman is proud of his role in the production, but more so of the role he plays in the eyes of younger audiences who don’t often get the opportunity to see someone who looks like them in the arts.
“My favorite part of being a part of this productions is being able to be a representation of people of color,” he stated. “Being the only black male in the company is something I don’t take lightly. I go onstage every night knowing it is my job to inspire someone that looks like me to keep going, and to realize anything is possible. I was once that kid in the audience being inspired and now it is my turn. My favorite story to tell is about a mother at the stage door with her two sons who thanked me for the performance. She went on to explain how she has two sons who are of mixed race and want to pursue theater. She explained seeing me up on stage gave her hope for her sons and gave her sons motivation that they can make it and survive in this business. I love that our show goes past the story and reaches hearts.”
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.