Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 16, 2020

REVIEW: The Bushnell, “Anastasia”

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through January 19, 2020
by Shera Cohen
Before the musical “Anastasia” begins, the audience enters the theatre as if walking 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 at the Bushnell, which held a full house on opening night, including lots of kids. 

Having seen the world premier at Hartford Stage three years ago is proof that what comes around, goes around. From Hartford to Broadway and back to Hartford, “Anastasia” has changed only slightly, thank goodness. The creative team of director Darko Tresnjak, scenic designer Alexander Dodge, and choreographer Peggy Hickey have worked fairy tale magic once again.

The Disneyfication of cartoon movies morphing into Broadway musicals has become a staple for theatergoers. Some do not like this rather less creative decision-making on the part of design staff. Others cheer to see the likes of Ariel and Mulan bouncing out of the movie screen, at the same time showing the next generation how wonderful theatre can be.

“Anastasia” combines a bit of a “My Fair Lady” plot with some powerhouse music, particularly in solos and duets. A cast of 40, song list of 30, band (more like an orchestra) of nearly 20, and six lead actors make “Anastasia” excel.

Lila Coogan (Anya aka Anastasia) looks like Grace Kelly and sings like Julie Andrews. Jake Levy (Dmitry) and Edward Staudenmayer (Vlad) team up as delightful amateur scoundrels with the proverbial hearts of gold. This triumvirate form the crux of the story. Other standouts are Jason Michael Evans (Gleb) as the emotionally tortured soldier. However, the audience must wait until after intermission for Tari Kelly (Countess Lily) to take the stage as effervescent and needed comic relief, literally kicking up her heals in the most delightful moments of “The Countess and the Common Man.” 

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 locations quickly change.

A smorgasbord of more kudos: sound, lights, lush period costumes, the Charleston, and “Swan Lake.”

However, here’s a question, “less is more?” Hartford Stage’s set design is much smaller than The Bushnell, in many ways crafting intimate love stories; Anya and Dmity, love of family, friends, and country. Because the audience is physically near the stage, they can’t help but fall in love with the characters. On the other hand, “Anastasia” is equally depicted as a sprawling story of Russia at war with cultures disintegrating amid flames and booming kettle drums. This furry calls for the Bushnell-size setting.

“Anastasia” is a wonderful package of beauty, history, mystery, and love.