When the 1997 animated movie Anastasia was officially sent to Broadway, millennials who grew up with it were thrilled. But the musical, which opened April 24, draws on more than just one cartoon musical; it also takes parts from a film from 1956 and from the true, terrifying events in Russian history.
Critics in the early performances found this array of inspirations to muddle the production, creating a show that never strikes the right tone or figures out exactly what it wants to be. For more about Anastasia on Broadway, see below.
The show’s split personality
Ben Brantley, The New York Times
The amnesiac title character of Anastasia, who may or may not be the long-lost daughter of the last Russian czar, isn’t alone in suffering a serious identity crisis. The postcard-scenic show that bears her name, which opened on Monday night at the Broadhurst Theater, has its own troubling case of multiple personality disorder.
The show, despite being filled with some very good songs and performances, suffers from its own identity crisis. It’s got a split personality and is torn between whether it’s serious drama or frothy musical comedy.
One wishes that the creative team — the same one behind “Ragtime” — of Terrence McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) had found a way to make it cohesive and more balanced.
Jesse Green, Vulture:
At least in the ridiculous movie, Bartok the Bat & Co. signaled the limited intentions of the story and also its unseriousness, thus freeing audiences to enjoy it for what it was. The stage show retracts that free pass, with its Cheka firing squad and cutely starving post-revolutionary peasants. Tresnjak’s tonally schizophrenic staging, depending heavily on projections rendered on LCD panels that are part of the set, only makes things worse, calling to mind the material’s cartoonish DNA just when you need to forget it.
Anya and the Empress
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
While the show’s tone is muddy, Altomare has a bright, clear voice and shines in the lead role. Anya may or may not be a princess, but the actress playing her is a royal treat.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline:
Darko Tresnjak, the envelope-pushing director (A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder, which also started out at Hartford Stage, where he’s artistic director), and choreographer Peggy Hickey have built a solid machine to make a lugubrious story pass by swiftly, if not always gracefully. They have in Christy Altomare a near-perfect heroine whose only flaw is her flawlessness; as Anstasia, she seems too blandly resilient for anything more complex than a cartoon character’s reinvention. She has the clarion mezzo of a Disney heroine and that archetype’s signature chipper indomitability. She’s lovely.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline:
And one more thing: Anastasia has Mary Beth Peil (The Good Wife) as the Dowager Empress, and she’s glorious. Not only does she remind us of her chops as a terrific stage actress after countless TV roles, but she reveals her background as a singer of operatic stature with the score’s two best songs, “Once Upon A December,” which launches the show, and Act II’s “Close The Door,” which is a beautiful number, period. She’s better than any old music box.
Costume designer Linda Cho and set designer Alexander Dodge (both of A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love & Murder) put their respective Tony-winning and Tony-nominated hands to great use — the costumes (and tiaras, in particular) and screen-based sets that transport the audience from Saint Petersburg to a speeding train to a cherry-blossom-filled park are the true standouts of this show.
Alexander Dodge’s sets, fleshed out by photographic projections by Aaron Rhyne, have a pop-up book prettiness, though they often seem stranded between two and three dimensions. So do the performances, though Ms. Altomare commits herself to her part with melodramatic focus and a soaring pop voice.
Darko Tresnjak’s staging boasts momentum and atmosphere. Costumes go from rags to riches. Projections push the story from Russia to Paris. But a consistent mood eludes the director, who won a Tony for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”
Anastasia is now playing at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City.