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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.shnsf.com or call 888-746-1799.
B-roll courtesy of SHN