Anastasia is a Feast for the Eyes at Shea’s

I’ll say this straight up: suspend all your thoughts about present day Russia and erase your knowledge about the Russian Revolution and the urban myths behind Princess Anastasia dead or alive (maybe).  Instead embrace the idea that the two plus hours you’ll spend in Shea’s Performing Arts Center seeing Anastasia The New Broadway Musical is a charming fairy tale about hope and perseverance with a great score, stunning scenography, and beautiful costumes.

This production is the stage version of the popular 1997 film that is (very) vaguely based on the fall of the Romanov Empire of Imperialist Russia circa 1917. In brief, the people revolt against their austere living conditions vis a vis the royal family’s lavish lifestyle and the Tsar, his bride, and their children are killed after the Tsar’s mother – the Dowager Empress – escapes to Paris. Only one daughter – Anastasia – survives, albeit traumatized and suffering from amnesia. Rumors of her life are widely circulated on the street, and two shady sorts decide to audition girls to pose as the young Princess, bring her to Paris to reunite with her beloved Dowager Nana, and reap the ruples of reward. Unbeknownst to them, the scrappy, hard-working street-sweeping waif they meet is Anastasia herself, and while she is tutored by a former gentleman of the court to adopt royal ways, her old memories begin to return.  The Terrence McNally book throws in a couple fun plot twists for interest along with some laughably loveable characters.

Revisionist history notwithstanding, this production is visually stunning. The sets are lush and are beautifully augmented with spectacular video of old St. Petersburg, the Hermitage, and a breathtaking ride up the Eiffel Tour. The video helps advance the years from 1906 up to 1927 and the scenery and fashion change accordingly. It’s all seamless and lovely. Anastasia’s flashbacks and dreams are illusions that come to life, too.  There’s even a simulated train ride from Russia through Poland to the outskirts of Paris where the (one) train car appears to turn and bank and jerk along. Scene purists will balk that we only see that solitary car in what we assume to be a longer train, but hey, it’s all about point of view. Once the trio gets to Paris, they mingle with Russian emigres and in a truly special moment, there’s a beautiful ballet sequence with excerpts from Swan Lake. The Tchaikovsky score is nicely performer by two keyboards, a small ensemble orchestra, and an exquisite quartet of dancers.

There are some truly stand-out moments. Kyla Stone as Anastasia has a rich and full voice that is perfect for the Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Aherns score. Gleb, the military man who is on a mission to find Anastasia is expertly played by Brandon Delgado: his music conservatory training is well-used here for sure. My favorite moment of theatre magic is in the opening scene. The Royal Family is joyously dancing and little Anastasia lifted by her father as years turn from 1906 to 1917. While father and daughter twirl and spin, an older Anastasia is in her father’s arms right before your eyes. Yes, I was paying attention and no, I had no idea how the transition happened.

So it’s not authentic history and the story is a little thin, there is such joy on the stage, just go with it and be swept up by the gltiz and glam. It’s plenty of fun with a dash of romance, too.

A few gentle warnings: the show runs just shy of three hours with one intermission (cue the fanny fatigue). The lighting is spectacular for sure, but there are some flashing strobe lights in the first act which some folks may find bothersome. And “Journey to the Past” (originally nominated for best song in the 1997 Academy Awards) with its tricky syncopation and key modulations can easily become a fine earworm.  Details and tickets at www.sheas.org.