By Connie Bollinger
One of the most popular historical mysteries of the 20th century is that Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov possibly survived the massacre of her entire family the winter of 1918 during the Russian Revolution.
A few years later, a young girl emerged, claiming to be Anastasia, the sole survivor of the Russian Royal Family and heir to the Romanov fortune.
In this musical version, Anya, played by Lila Coogan, joins with two con men, Dmitry (Stephen Brower) and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer), hoping to pass off Anya as the lost Anastasia.
Coogan, a tiny bundle of energetic talent, displays an incredible vocal range highlighted in “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December.” She is graceful in dance as well as acting.
As the con men, Brower and Staudenmayer bring lots of fun to their characters, outstanding in solos as well as ensemble. Staudenmayer’s interaction with Countess Lily, played to a “T” by Tari Kelly, is fun and frankly, a welcomed respite from some of the darker aspects of the story.
However, the most interesting character was Gleb, the conflicted young Bolshevic officer who still struggles with a horrific childhood trauma. He has been assigned to find Anya and kill her to quell the rumors of a surviving Romanov. Jason Michael Evans brings Gleb into sharp focus by proving that very few people are all evil.
Although his performance was a bit over the top in the second act, I enjoyed it very much. The innovative visual effects were superb — I had never seen anything like them. Video and Projection Designer Aaron Rhyne and Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge gift us with so many visual treats that it’s almost too much. In addition, there is spectacular lighting (Donald Holder) and sound effects (Peter Hylenski). When these guys blow up a palace, you really believe you’re there.
And the dancing! And the costumes! We even get a small sampling of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” performed by some wonderful dancers. Award winning Director Darko Tresnjak has put together a huge cast and keeps all the parts moving with laser precision. Each scene blends comfortably into the next, allowing the audience to stay in the story.
That almost makes up for the lackluster score and the sophomoric script/dialogue.
Unfortunately, most modern scores leave me cold. I think a musical should be full of real music, music that makes sense and doesn’t sound like a bunch of random notes crammed together in a failed attempt at a pattern. And dialogue should crackle and sparkle and be interesting. Just my opinion.
That said, do yourself a favor and see “Anastasia.: It’s a wonderful night at the theatre.
The national tour of “Anastasia” is now playing at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand, St. Louis, from Dec. 26 through Jan. 6. For more information, visit www.fabulousfox.com and for tickets, www.MetroTix.com or 314-534-1111.