Hartford Stage’s ‘Anastasia’ to Open on Broadway With Original Leads

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Credit: Joan Marcus

“Anastasia: The New Musical” will open on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre next April with the original leads from the production that premiered in a sold-out, world record-breaking run at Hartford Stage.

“After finishing a record breaking run in Hartford, we look forward to bringing the magic of Anastasia to Broadway audiences next spring,” producers Bill Taylor and Tom Kirdahy said. “In Hartford, we saw people ages 8-100 travel from all over the world to enjoy Anastasia’s enduring story. We are thrilled to have Christy, Derek, John and Caroline leading our company again for the Broadway premiere.”

The musical tells the story of a royal family’s demise in the fall of the Russian empire and the hope that remains for the people and the Dowager Empress that a rumor of the duchess Anastasia’s survival is true as a new regime takes over Russia. The story also ventures into lively and euphoric 1920s Paris as a con artist duo — Dmitry and Vlad — try to pass off a young girl with amnesia, Anya, as the surviving Anastasia to collect a reward from her grandmother. Little do they know they may have stumbled across the real Anastasia and then it becomes a question of whether their scheme has become truth and whether Anya can verify her identity.

Christy Altomare will continue her role as Anya.

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Christy Altomare (Anya). Credit: Joan Marcus

Derek Klena will once again be beside her playing Dmitry.

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Credit: Joan Marcus

John Bolton will reprise his role as Dmitry’s con artist partner Vlad Popov and Caroline O’Connor will again take on the role of his old flame, Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch.

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Credit: Joan Marcus

Inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox 1997 animated feature “Anastasia,” the stage adaptation was brought to life by Tony winners Terrence McNally, the book writer, and composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens. The music writing team also wrote the music for the animated film, including their Oscar-nominated song, “Journey to the Past.”

If the musical didn’t already show enough Broadway promise with Tony potential from its creators, take a look at the acclaimed production team. The original production debuting at Hartford Stage came together under the lead of the theater’s artistic director, Darko Tresnjak, the Tony Award-winning director of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” the winner of the Tony for Best Musical in 2014 that originated at Hartford Stage. He will also direct the Broadway version.

“Gentleman’s Guide” set designer Alexander Dodge, who designs Hartford Stage production sets including “Anastasia”, will design the Broadway set. Peggy Hickey will once again choreograph.

The Broadway version will include beautiful costume design by Linda Cho.

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Credit: Joan Marcus

Creative team members also involved include Donald Holder (Lighting Design), Peter Hylenski (Sound Design), Aaron Rhyne (Projection Design), Charles LaPointe (Hair/Wig Design), Thomas Murray (Music Supervision & Direction), Doug Besterman (Orchestrations), casting by Telsey + Company/Craig Burns, CSA.

Tickets will go on sale this fall and the show will open on Broadway April 24, 2017.

Windsor Jesters’ ‘August Osage County’ Tackles Heavy Drama With Humor

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Credit: Courtesy of Windsor Jesters

That can’t be the end of the story. Oh, but it is in the very long emotional roller coaster that is “August Osage County” presented by the Windsor Jesters.

It’s a line spoken by Barbara Fordham (Virginia Wolf) after her drug-addled, outspoken and seemingly maniacal mother, Violet Weston (Rosemarie Beskind) tells a story that ends abruptly and harshly. And it’s fitting with the play, which ends on a note of turmoil without any real resolution or happy ending and contains many stories that don’t end neatly and aren’t necessarily pretty.

There is a lot of gray area in this play in terms of any moral center and the characters’ actions are sometimes questionable and inexplicable.

“August Osage County” is not for the faint of heart, but you also have to take it with a sense of humor. In the darkness and despair of the story, there is also light and hope and dry comedy that comes from the ridiculousness of what some of the characters say and do.

In fact, the humor is why director Chris Bushey chose the play. He said it has so many funny moments and that he considers it a comedy. If you don’t look at it through that paradigm though, it can come across as rather depressing. That is one main difference actress Virginia Wolf said there is between the play and the Oscar-recognized film by the same name. She said the movie takes out the comedy that the play has written into the script. Ah, live theater.

There are some very heavy topics addressed in the show. There’s a suicide, incest, presumed sexual molestation of a minor that happens in the dark, there are marital problems with one couple on the brink of divorce, there is drug use and there’s domestic violence. You have to recognize the humor not to be bogged down by it all.

The play starts out with a very drawn out monologue from Bill Mullen as Beverly Weston, the patriarch of the Oklahoma family in the story, as he spews drunken ramblings and quotes T.S. Eliot in a retrospective way to a silent, stone-faced prospective housekeeper, Johnna Monevata (Anna Neild) of native American decent. Despite consuming the seemingly eternal opening scene with his words, Mullen’s mannerisms and voice are compelling and convincing in contrast to the seemingly emotionless and flat Johnna. He sets the scene for us, talking about his drinking and his wife’s recreational use of pills.

That’s the last time we see Mullen, but his character remains very crucial to the plot as he goes missing and the sheriff (Mark Proulx) says he is a presumed suicide. That brings back a lot of the family that has moved away home, initially to help look for him and then for his funeral and to help get things back in order.

Because once Beverly’s gone, the focus is on Violet and what to do about her pill addiction. Beskind is phenomenal in the role, which requires a very steep emotional arch and has a lot of layers. Beskind showed us all shades of Violet, from a sweet elderly mother to someone with a blunt, humorous perspective on life to a raging, belligerent drug addict experiencing highs and lows.

“August Osage County” depicts a very dysfunctional family that is brought together and in some way grows by what they learn from each other. But the wounds of the characters are very deep and their healing scars are often abruptly torn apart again. It shows life in the rawest form.

Wolf, as Barbara, has a way of conveying a range of emotions in a very natural and genuine way. One of the most powerful scenes is when a tense scuffle breaks out between her and Violet (Beskind) and she very firmly tells her “I’m in charge now.”

The play is very long and is a rare three acts with two intermissions, running at least three hours. While compelling in dialogue and character, Act I drags on as the longest. Act II is more captivating because of its brevity and because action between the characters is added. Act III kind of sets the characters back on their own paths and wraps up some of the story lines, but doesn’t tie them up with a bow, leaving what happens next open to interpretation.

Phil Godeck does a good job at conveying the awkward tension between his character, Bill Fordham and his wife, Barbara as they struggle with marital troubles. He’s able to show the contrast of trying to be a good man and the level-headed one as he fights with the growing distance between him and his wife. The chemistry is strongest between him and Wolf in the scenes where they are arguing.

Jacqueline Lasry, the youngest actress in the show, is able to tackle very dark moments with a combination of maturity and innocence and has an easy-going way about her that depicts the ultimate teenager.

Marisa Clement is the one we’re routing for as Violet’s dutiful daughter, Ivy. She’s the one who stayed home to take care of her mother, yet she seems to go unappreciated and is often criticized. Clement’s facial expressions convey exactly how much her character struggles with those moments, yet tries to suppress her emotions to keep the peace. She has a deep secret that will leave you questioning your assessment of what is right romantically in this day and age. You’ll question it even more with the twist.

Suzanne Robertson is the brightest of the bunch as Karen, the sister who lives in Florida and is newly engaged and bubbling with happiness and gab.

Enrico DiGiacomo brings out the youthful, immature side of his character and paired well with both the older and younger actors. He and Robertson bring a lighter and more naive contrast to many of the other characters.

Bruce Larsen, as Charlie Aiken, is able to play both a loving father standing up for his son, Little Charles Aiken when his wife, Mattie Fae (Helen Malinka), Violet’s sister, is hard on him and a single-minded button pusher on the topic of eating meat, or fear. Malinka comes across as harsh as Mattie Fae in the way she treats her son, but there’s a reason for that that we learn later.

Logan Lopez is another character you feel very badly for as Little Charles, a 37-year-old under his parents’ thumbs who supposedly watches TV all day. He embodies this in every movement from his shaking to his somber expressions to his soft-spoken apologies.

One of the only purely happy moments in the play is when we get to hear Lopez play the guitar and sing for Ivy. It’s the only time he smiles and the two actors together bring out their characters’ single strand of happiness and hope.

While Johnna is referred to as “the Indian” by Violet and has a quiet observer role most of the show, she really comes through for the family, making them dinner, saving Jean in a disturbing moment and coming to Violet’s aid when everything truly comes crashing down on her in the end. It’s the first time Violet actually calls her Johnna.

Mark Proulx is adorable, innocent and kind-hearted as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau.

The play leaves you with a lot of questions. Some of the answers lie with Violet, who is more all-knowing and with it than she leads on. But that’s the beautiful thing about the play. It has a lot of layers and makes you think and doesn’t always give you the answer. You don’t always get the answer in life.

Now that’s the end of my story. So now you still have two more chances this weekend to go see this one. The play is running at the senior center Friday and Saturday night.

 

 

Discover the Magic of Broadway-Bound “Anastasia” Musical at Hartford Stage

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Left to right: Lauren Blackman (Tsarina Alexandra), Christy Altomare (Anya), Constantine Germanacos (Tsar Nicholas II and Derek Klena (Dmitry) as Anya tells Dmitry a flashback about a music box belonging to Anastasia as the ghosts Grand Duchess’s parents look on. Credit: Joan Marcus

While Anya (Christy Altomare) may not fully remember her past and whether she is Russia’s rumored surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia, audiences will be unable to forget Broadway-bound “Anastasia” debuting now at Hartford Stage.

Once upon a December, little Anastasia, 6, (Nicole Scimeca) receives a lovely music box from her grandmother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna to remember her before she leaves St. Petersburg for Paris, though her mother, Tsarina Alexandra (Lauren Blackman) tells her prayers are more crucial than music boxes. In a dance with her father, Tsar Nicholas II (Constantine Germanacos), we see Anastasia morph into her 17-year-old self, played by Molly Rushing, in a smooth transition made possible by the masking effect of the ensemble dancers. As rebels overtake the Romanov dynasty’s palace, clashing with exquisite and luxurious scenes illustrated by dance, the family flees and is ultimately killed. Anastasia runs back for that precious music box and is caught in the blast.

Fast forward to the 1920s, St. Petersburg has been renamed Leningrad in evolved Communist Russia. A young man named Dmitry (Derek Klena) and his mentor, Vlad Popov audition girls to play Anastasia to collect reward money from the Dowager Empress when a legend circulates claiming the grand duchess survived the attack on her family. In the process of developing their con, Dmitry and Vlad meet Anya (Christy Altomare), a young woman who awoke in the hospital with amnesia and doesn’t remember who she is but needs help with exit papers to get out of the country. She falls into their plan and it isn’t long before she and they wonder if their farce is true. Maybe she really is the Grand Duchess Anastasia, hope for Russia, which proves a threat to the current regime and sets high-ranking government official Gleb (Manoel Felciano) on a manhunt for her to kill her.

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Left to right: Derek Klena (Dmitry), Christy Altomare (Anya) and John Bolton (Vlad) as the two conmen teach their new acquaintance Anya everything she’ll need to know that will make her a convincing Anastasia. Credit: Joan Marcus

The play is a stage adaptation inspired by the 1997 Disney animated feature film by the same name. When first I heard composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens were behind the music, I was excited and immediately optimistic this new musical would have Broadway and Tony potential given its creative team. Flaherty and Ahrens wrote the music for the Disney classic and they also wrote the music for esteemed Broadway favorites like “Seussical The Musical,” “Ragtime,” “My Favorite Year” and “Lucky Stiff.” I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Flaherty when he happened to be sitting next to me in a staged reading for a rewrite of “My Favorite Year” Off-Broadway in New York and he was so kind and down-to-earth, so his involvement made me all-the-more enthusiastic about this production.

Not to mention that a significant number of the major players who took “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” from its Hartford Stage debut to Broadway and earned it the Tony in 2014 for Best Musical are involved in “Anastasia.” Director Darko Tresnjak, set designer Alexander Dodge and costume designer Linda Cho all won Tonys in their respective crafts for “A Gentleman’s Guide” and they’re reunited on the creative team for “Anastasia,” along with choreographer Peggy Hickey, projection designer Aaron Rhyne and dramaturg Elizabeth Williamson, who also worked on “A Gentleman’s Guide” with them. Lighting designer Donald Holder, who won the Tony for lighting in “The Lion King,” sound designer Peter Hylenski, who received a Tony nomination for “After Midnight,” and orchestrator Doug Besterman, who earned a Tony for “The Producers,” also comprise this crackerjack team, as well as music director Tom Murray (“Honeymoon in Vegas”).

With the lofty credentials of the creative team, it’s no wonder that “Anastasia” was one of the most beautiful musicals I’ve ever laid eyes on. The set is stunning. Projections bring the setting of every scene to life with vivid details such as animated seasonal features like snowfall, blood red hues representing bloody and violent rebellions against the royal family, fast-scrolling scenery giving a train the illusion of movement, Paris backdrops and the shadows of the ghostly figures of Anastasia’s royal ancestors and family. The lighting and breathtaking colors enhance the scenery.

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Christy Altomare (Anya) and company of Anastasia. Credit: Joan Marcus

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Derek Klena (far left as Dmitry), Christy Altomare (Anya) and John Bolton (far right as Vlad) and the company of Anastasia as the characters escape Russia. Credit: Joan Marcus

The set choreography runs smoothly and beautifully as set pieces are twirled and lifted mechanically. The only moment I noticed a possible delay in the timing of a set feature was when Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch lights the Dowager Empress’s lantern and it doesn’t come on until the end of the scene.

The spinning stage is an element that helps time pass and makes the attack on the royal family more chaotic. It also livens the culturally and artistically bright and exuberant Paris when Anya, Dmitry and Vlad arrive there, adding a challenge to the choreography as the three effortlessly maneuver and climb on a revolving Eiffel Tower in a vibrant and memorable number about the city of love.

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Christy Altomare (Anya). Credit: Joan Marcus

The breathtaking aesthetics of this production are also decorated by the sparkling costumes from Tsarina Alexandra’s and Anya’s stunning gowns to the brightly colored and fashionable attire of the Parisians in contrast to the more earthy wardrobes of the Russians.

Flaherty’s score preserves history in a majestic and reflective way. The orchestra’s sound was very full and the melodies were twinkling, though it was a little distracting that you could see the conductor.

Ahrens’ lyrics are romantic and emotional. The words make us feel for the characters as the actors, particularly Mary Beth Peil as the Dowager Empress, Christy Altomare as Anya, Derek Klena as Dmitry, pour every bit of their expressions, movements and all-around being into the songs and strongly emote their meaning and tug at your heartstrings. The cast had the privilege of working with the writing team throughout the process and adjusting as songs were removed or added or words were changed.

You feel the Dowager Empress’s sorrow when she finds out her family is dead in a brief scene that Peil said in a cast talk-back was added for the purpose of biding time for a costume change. Peil is acting royalty (you might recognize her as Grams from “Dawson’s Creek”) and she commands the stage in every element from her powerhouse vocals, to her expressions, character voice and all-around powerful emotions.

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Mary Beth Peil as the Dowager Empress. Credit: Joan Marcus

Altomare was easy to relate to as the sweet but spunky Anya and her voice had a pure Disney princess quality to it and her smile was captivating. She played well with Klena as the cheeky, clever pauper who remembers the Grand Duchess Anastasia waiving to him during a parade when she was eight and he was 10. Their chemistry is strong whether their characters are working together as new pals, sparring over a moral disagreement or falling in love. Klena’s vocals are princely and most powerful when he utilizes vibrato, occasionally waivering ever so slightly in pitch and tone when he puts more of a character voice on when singing. His charming nature and dimpled smile add to his appeal as our leading male.

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Derek Klena (Dmitry) and Christy Altomare (Anya). Credit: Joan Marcus

Caroline O’Connor’s brassy voice, saucy attitude and dry humor as Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch, attendant to the Dowager Empress and Vlad’s old flame, brought comedy in her standout role. So did John Bolton as Vlad in his scenes with her. They were a dynamic duo of chemistry and paired well. O’Connor’s snazzy night club number was very lively and memorable.

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At center, John Bolton (Vlad) and Caroline O’Connor (Lily) and the company of Anastasia. Credit: Joan Marcus

Their duet reflecting on their history together was touching, comical and full of youthful fervor.

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Caroline O’Connor and John Bolton. Credit: Joan Marcus

Young Nicole Scimeca was adorable in her doubled roles as little Anastasia and Prince Alexei Romanov. In the talk-back after Tuesday night’s performance, she said she loved having the opportunity to play characters with different gender perspectives, swiveling her hips less to walk as the young prince.

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Nicole Scimeca (Young Anastasia) and Mary Beth Peil (Dowager Empress). Credit: Joan Marcus

Manoel Felciano played a rather anticlimactic villain as Gleb, who like Anya wants to live up to his family, instead channeling history for bad in wanting to finish what his father was supposed to do in executing Anastasia if the rumors of her survival prove true. I expected his character to be more menacing and causing tragedy for our protagonists, but that was surprisingly not so and he has a moral awakening of sorts. However, Felciano’s acting was solid.

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Manoel Feliciano (Gleb) and Christy Altomare (Anya). Credit: Joan Marcus

Many of the actors doubled parts in the ensemble and they gave character to even the smaller parts, like Rayanne Gonzales who got a lot of laughs as Gertrude Stein, and fleshed out the scenes. The cast is only about 20 people, so it’s small, and on a larger Broadway stage I could see the ensemble being larger.

The choreography was beautiful, particularly when our lead characters attend the “Swan Lake” ballet with Alida Michal as Odette, Max Clayton as Prince Siegfried and Dance Captain Johnny Stellard as Von Rothbart. The elegant dance mirrors what Anya is going through as Gleb looms in the shadows of the theater, aiming to shoot her dead.

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Alida Michal (in the air) and the company of “Anastasia” in the “Swan Lake” ballet scene. Credit: Joan Marcus

This version of the story captures history and leaves out the magical elements that are in the Disney film. However, the story is still very magical. In a way, Anya’s memories are like magic as glimpses of her possible flashbacks of her royal origin rush through her head sporadically from seeming memories to dreams and nightmares. They jump from fragments to more complete when she meets the Dowager Empress, which could seem far-fetched, but that is mystery of memory.

Is Anya really Anastasia? The story too simply presents her as such even if it’s unbelievable. Director Darko Tresnjak said that, historically, DNA findings of the Romanov family confirm that “Anna Anderson was not Anastasia.” The ending isn’t really clear about that either way or what becomes of her, which I guess represents the nature of the rumor of her survival as legend. But regardless of whether she is or isn’t, Anya’s sense of self-discovery by the end and growth is almost more important.

“To me, that does not really matter. A fabrication gave birth to a myth, a modern romance,” Tresnjak says in the program.

Anastasia means resurrection, according to Tresnjak, and this play certainly does just that for this romantic story of hope.

The play ends on the symbolic Pont Alexandre III bridge, named after Anastasia’s grandfather. As the background projection transforms into a painting, we see how this production is a bridge between art and history through the magical vehicle of storytelling.

Many media outlets have reported that there are plans for “Anastasia” to go to Broadway in 2016-17, though it’s unclear when that will precisely happen and which theater.

However, Hartford Stage has a history of birthing Broadway shows and this one has promise, so you won’t want to miss it before it closes in our capital city. The production has extended its run time to June 19 due to popular demand.

“Anastasia” is about two and a half hours with an intermission.

For more information on the production and purchasing tickets, visit http://www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.