SAN FRANCISCO,CA --  The  new  Broadway's  musical ANASTASIA that opened at SHN GOLDEN GATE THEATRE  in San Francisco on September 4th,  is a journey to the past.  Its  plot is a mixture of  historic facts and gossip.  Its  protagonist, Anastasia, a  mystery woman,  who may (or may not have been) the last  Romanov.

History tells us that The House of Romanov achieved prominence as boyars, the name given to the members of the upper stratum of  the medieval Russian society who worked as State Administrators of  the Grand Duchy of Moscow and  became the Tsardom (Emperors)    of Russia after the Rurik Dynasty.

The sudden  death of   Tsar Feodor I in 1598, created a succession crisis in the Rurik Dynasty that caused the Polish-Muscovite war. To stop the war, the Zemsky Sobor (the  Tsardom of  Russian parliament) elected sixteen-year old  MICHAIL  FYODOROVICH  ROMANOV as Tsar of Russia on February 21, 1613 establishing the ROMANOV as Russia's second reigning dynasty.  It lasted for three hundred and four years and was ended when the family was executed on July 17, 1918 during the Bolshevik revolution.  

ANASTASIA  the musical begins  in 1906. The setting is the interior of  Tzar  Nicholas' palace. Anastasia, age 7, is listening to the lullaby song  played in the music box she  just received as a gift from the Dowager Empress (JOY FRANZ)  her  "Nana"  ( grandmother) who, in a lovely voice. is singing the song's lyrics to the girl. She had come to say goodbye to her favorite grandchild because she is moving to Paris. Trying to console Anastasia, who is crying, she tells her that even when she will be away, they will always be together.  Her  promise, serves as premise to a story that  interweaves  music with  history, love, tragedy and the rumors  spread  by the Russian people on the street that Anastasia lives.

VICTORIA BINGHAM (little Anastasia) and  JOY FRANZ (Dowager Empress) in the National tour of ANASTASIA.

Many things have changed in Russia in 1927.  St. Petersburg is  now called  Leningrad. On the street, Gled Vaganov (JASON MICHAEL EVANS ) an officer of the "new regime' is delivering patriotic  speech in which he promised the populous that Russia will now be the envy of the world.  One of his listeners, Dmitry (STEPHEN BROWER), a young rebellious man expresses his cynicism about the new regime.

But  the most  important theme of conversation among the people in the Russian streets, is not politics, but the rumor that when The Revolution executed the Royal family, their youngest daughter, Anastasia, survived. And to intensify the mystery, there is Anya (LILA COOGAN) a name that was given to a  street sweeper in her twenties, who looks  aristocratic, but who does not remember where she came from or who she is because she suffers from amnesia. 

Gleb (EVANS), whose father was among those who executed the Tsar's family, had also noticed "something" in this girl that attracted his attention. He noticed that when a truck backfired in the street sounding like the bullets fired by a squadron, the girl became very nervous and started crying, as if she had been familiar with the sound. Gleb decides to observe her.  On his part, Dmitry (BROWER) decides to train her to impersonate Anastasia.

4 - Jason Michael Evans (Gleb) in the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Matthew Murphy, MurphyMade..jpg
JASON MICHAEL  EVANS (Gleb)  Photo by: Mathew Murphy, Murphymade

With book written  by TERRENCE McNALLY,  recipient of the Dramatist Guild Lifetime Achievement awards and four Tony Awards, ANASTASIA is perfectly structured as a drama. Interesting is also the writing of his dialogue. When the dialogue is spoken is short. When the dialogue is sung, he allows the lyrics to be long. We should add that in ANASTASIA, the characters' exposition is done when they sing the lyrics of their the songs.  And because in a musical every character sings, it allows the audience to get to know each one.

As playwright, his collaboration with LYNN AHRENS allows STEPHEN FLAHERTY, to create three dimensional characters because she, as lyricist, continues his dialogue in her lyrics. Her lyrics are long and may be compared to Operas' arias. Also interesting, is that most are similar to the soliloquies in drama, because their purpose is not for the characters to talk to each other, but to  reveal the audience "something important" about themselves: Anya's thoughts of being a girl without  a name and without  memories.  Dmitry's planning how to teach this girl to become  Anastasia. Gleb, revealing us that his mother hid from shame after his father shot the Tsar's family. As a musical, the strength in ANASTASIA is this perfect amalgamation of its spoken dialogue and lyrics. And here we should add, that the characters' revelations give them tri-dimensions, make them human, and make the audience care for them.

Countess Lily TARY KELLY and Vlad (EDWARD STAUDENMAYER) number at the Paris'  Russian Club won cheers and applause on opening night.

The music written by STEPHEN FLAHERY  sounds pleasant. He even wrote a Russian-sounding song,  "Land of Yesterday"  sang by Countess Lily (TARI KELLY) for the show. The rest may be described as fast rhythms, and some waltzes for the  Palace's parties. As collaborators in Music and Lyrics since 1983,  both AHRENS and FLAHERY has won Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Awards. 

Another winner in the production is director  DARKO TRESNJAK winner of the 2014 Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Wards, and the  2015 Obie. With so many winners and a wonderful cast, it is no wonder that ANASTASIA is outstanding.

Front Center  L-R  EDWARD STAUDENMAYER(Vlad) STEPHEN BROWER (Dmitry) LILA COOGAN (Anya) and the company of the National Tour.

Another reason why ANASTASIA is a must see, for theatre goers, are the  projections (AARON RHYNE) and the visual effects. ANASTASIA has many sets and each one looks so realistic, that it actually manages to  transports the audience, vicariously, to many places including the interior of the Tsar's palace during the revolution. as we watch the flames lapping  at the windows and listen to the sounds of bullets outside. 

The most realistic scene is  train ride which is projected in such a way that makes us feel we are riding inside a moving train, watching the passing scenery on the countryside. from our window.  

The most realistic building projections,  because they have dimension,  are shown during our visit to  Paris. They include among others the inside of nightclub, and the inside of the Paris  Opera House  where from a balcony, we can watch the stage where a group ballet  dancers are performing  "the Swan Lake"  with MARK MacKILLOP dancing  the role of Prince Siegfried and LYRICA WOODRUFF the role of Odette. And we all get a feeling of being there as we stroll  through  Les Champs Elysées, see  L'arc de Triomphe, and  stand under the Eiffel Tower.

L-R  EDWARD STAUDENMAYER (Vlad) LILA GOOGAN (Anastasia) and STEPHEN BROWER as (Dmitry) kneeling.

The combination of a historical story, told with music, a well structured plot perfectly performed  by professional actors, pleasant music sang y danced well, and all presented in a variety of realistic looking sets, makes ANASTASIA the new Broadway Musical, the best SHN show we have reviewed in San Francisco.

ANASTASIA will play at the SHN GOLDEN GATE THEATRE 1 Taylor Street in San Francisco from now through September 29, 2019. For tickets you can go online to or call 888-746-1799.



B-roll courtesy of SHN