Musicals can take many paths from inception to the stage. The more convoluted the route, the greater the degree of difficulty in making something worthwhile.
“Anastasia” is a great example of the perils of taking the long and winding road. The show is loosely based on the 1997 animated film that tried to make a whimsical fairy tale out of the brutal execution of the Romanov royal family that in turn sparked the Russian Revolution. Super fun, kids! Stay tuned for Disney’s “Donner Party.”
At any rate, “Anastasia” made it to Broadway and is now out on the road, showing now through Jan. 6, at the Fox Theatre. The show is a big mixed bag that at times has a few flashes of inspiration, but mostly it just seems unsure about what it is trying to say.
Our story picks up in the 1920s, where Russia is presented as a hellscape that would make Dickens depressed. The Dowager Empress (Joy Franz) is living in exile in Paris and is offering a hefty reward to anyone who can produce her granddaughter Anastasia, who was rumored to be the only survivor of her family’s execution.
The story of the reward spreads around the world and back in Leningrad, streetwise conman Dmitry (Stephan Brower) and former aristocrat Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer) decide to audition potential Anastasias to fraudulently secure the reward.
When they meet Anya (Lila Coogan), a street sweeper with amnesia, they decide it’s possible they may have stumbled upon the real Anastasia.
The trio escape to Paris with much difficulty as the Soviet government looks to squash any rumors of surviving Romanovs by sending an enforcer, Gleb (Jason Michael Evans), to hunt the counterrevolutionaries down.
Along the way, there is romance, intrigue, and a healthy amount of confusion. So, while the story doesn’t have much to offer, the cast is at least adequate and solidly professional.
Adding on to the mediocrity is the songs, of which none really stand out and are almost immediately forgettable.
In fact, the only thing “Anastasia” really has going for it is its impressive stage production, which features massive, high-resolution projection screens that produce stunning backdrops. In the show’s most eye-popping sequence, Anya, Dmitry, and Vlad are traveling on a train and, as the train car rotates around, the motion on the screen switches correspondingly in the direction the train is traveling. It is a stunning blend of technology and stagecraft.
Unfortunately, once you remove the visuals, there’s just not much to “Anastasia” to write home about. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either; leaving it trapped in the realm of bland acceptability.
It would be nice to see this much effort put into a production with better source material. I guess there’s always next Christmas.
“Anastasia” is playing now through Jan. 6, at the Fox Theatre. For tickets, call 314-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.