Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 31, 2016


Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through June 19, 2016
By Shera Cohen

Before the new musical “Anastasia” begins, the audience enters the theatre as if to walk onto the pages of a storybook. In fact, the tale of Anastasia, the very real and presumably executed Russian princess of the early 20th century, may or may not be folklore. The ultimate decision is that of each individual (a full house at Sunday’s matinee) at Hartford Stage.

The creative team of director Darko Tresnjak, scenic designer Alexander Dodge, and choreographer Peggy Hickey – all of Hartford’s Tony Award winning Best Musical “Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” – had better buy their tuxes or fancy duds as they undoubtedly will again head to NYC, to sold out houses, and to countless accolades.

The Disneyfication of cartoon movies morphing into Broadway musicals has become a staple for theatergoers. Never having seen the cartoon motion picture, yet remembering the Ingrid Berman version, it seems a good guess that this musical combines elements of both, adding its own charm.

“Anastasia” combines a bit of a “My Fair Lady” plot with some powerhouse “Les Miz-like” music. Without feeling crammed or rushed, the musical has so much that’s wonderful going for it; i.e. love story, mystery, renewed romance, family, and history. A cast of 40, song list of 30, band (more like an orchestra) of nearly 20, and six lead actors make “Anastasia” excel beyond anticipation.

Photo by Joan Marcus
Christy Altomare’s Anastasia looks like Grace Kelly and sings like Julie Andrews. Derek Klena (Dmitry) and John Bolton (Vlad) team up as delightful amateur scoundrels. This triumvirate is the crux of the story. Manoel Felciano (Gleb) acts the emotionally tortured soldier perfectly. The audience must wait until mid-musical for Caroline O’Connor (Lily) to take the stage as effervescent comic relief. Finally, Mary Beth Piel portrays the grandmother who, one upon a time was Empress.

Director Tresnjak’s hand molds the musical’s shape, sound, and spirit. A constantly changing backdrop tableau of static pictures, movement, and shadows is exquisite. Sections of flats smoothly slide in and out, turn, and circle as season’s and settings change.

Only one criticism falls into the “less is more” category. Cutting out a couple of songs and/or deleting refrains of others would shorten the 2 1/2 hour performance. Yet, I have no suggestion on where to snip, as “Anastasia” is the definition of “superb.”

A smorgasbord of more kudos: sound, lights, lush period costumes, chorus numbers to click your heels up, and “Swan Lake.”. Two short linguistic points to make – no attempt is made at Russian accents (thank you), and every lyric is enunciated flawlessly.