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REVIEW: Anastasia Opens, Prodigal Princess Returns (Orpheum Theatre/HTT)

The North American touring company of Anastasia, now playing at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The Broadway tour of the stage musical Anastasia opened at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis last night. It was a long time coming: after originally being slotted to perform in Minneapolis in March and April of 2020, this stage adaptation of the beloved animated musical was rescheduled three times before the curtain finally rose on Tuesday evening.

As a fan of the eponymous, animated 1997 film, I was eager to see the stage musical Anastasia. The source film was produced by Fox Family Films and Fox Animation Studios, making Anastasia a distinctly non-Disney Princess character (although the character was often confused as such). While this remained true when the stage musical opened on Broadway in 2017, the current situation is a little more complicated.

Thanks to Disney’s 2019 acquisition of Fox, you can – ironically enough – now watch Anastasia on Disney+. Does that make Anastasia a retroactive Disney princess? As with the real-life controversies with impersonators of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, you could argue for a long time and not convince people.

Kyla Stone stars as Anya in the North American tour of Anastasia. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Fans of the film should note that the stage musical is not a direct adaptation of the 1997 film, but rather treats it as a jumping off point for a more expanded version of the story. Favorite songs are still included; in this production, iconic song such as “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December” are beautifully performed by Kyla Stone. The comedic con artist duo Vlad (Bryan Seastrom) and Dmitry (Sam McLellan) energetically perform the familiar song “Learn to Do It”, and the whole cast gives that Broadway flare to the plot setting song “A Rumor in St. Petersburg”.

Most screen-to-stage adaptations bring in new composers; not so here, where the composer-lyricist team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty returns to write a much more expansive set of new songs to fill out the score. (The book of the musical is by their frequent collaborator Terrence McNally, who first worked with them on Ragtime.) Some of these new songs echo the earlier style, and others go farther afield. One of the best of these new songs is “Stay, I Pray You”, a sort of collective prayer performed towards the end of the first act, exploring the difficulty of leaving one’s homeland to never see it again. This emotional piece is one of the few moments of quiet reflection in the musical, and greatly effective at portraying the tragedy of being forced from one’s home.

Digitally projected backdrops by Aaron Rhyne are used to capture iconic locations throughout the musical. Pictured: Kyla Stone as Anya and Sam McLellan as Dmitry, with the touring cast. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Not all of the divergencies from the film are as effective, such as replacing the main villain – in the film, the evil warlock Rasputin – with a Russian Revolution soldier named Gleb. While it is more historically accurate to focus on the acts of the Revolutionists, rather than some mysterious curse placed by one evil man, the swap effectively lowers the stakes for the main character and her crew. Being silently perused by a Javert-like soldier with questionable motivation and little resolve is simply not as menacing as running from a rotting magical being. You miss something without the magic.

One of the show’s stars is the Tony Award-nominated costume design of Linda Cho, which spans from opulent to bedraggled, including fashion from both Russia and France. The stunning gowns and jewels worn by the Romanov family took my breath away, and the fun Parisian club clothes made me want to take to the dance floor. In addition to the costumes, the set – made up mostly of projections – was truly stunning. The projections were so vibrant and dynamic that it is no wonder that Aaron Rhyne won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Projection Design for them.

The lavish costumes created by Linda Cho capture the incredible luxury enjoyed by the Romanov family pre-Revolution. Pictured: Marley Sophia (Little Anastasia) and Gerri Weagraff (Dowager Empress). Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

In its current incarnation, Anastasia has more spectacle than heart. With the exception of “Stay, I Pray You”, most of the show does not delve too deeply into the emotional state of the characters. The score is beautiful, and performed by a talented cast, but the whole is not as emotionally charged as it might have been.

COVID-19 Note

All guests 12 and older are required to show a proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to the performances. Masks are required at all times except while eating or drinking. While the normal concessions are still available, food and beverages must be consumed in the lobby and cannot be brought into the theatre, so as to ensure that masks stay in place throughout the performance.

Expect that entering the building will take more time than you may be used to pre-pandemic. You can expedite your entry by visiting one of the check-in stations in the lobby of the State, Pantages, and Orpheum theatres, up to two hours before the performance. 

The Company of the North American tour of Anastasia. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Anastasia plays at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis through December 19th.

Boo Segersin