For pretty much my entire life, I’ve dreamed of seeing a show on Broadway. This past weekend, that dream finally came true. Thanks to the school my mom works at, I was able to go see Anastasia at the legendary Broadhurst Theater. As much as I tried not to be, I was a starry-eyed tourist the whole day.
Overall, my first New York City experience was great. I got to see Times Square, I got to eat great food, and I got to do it all free-of-charge. Even though I’ll never get to experience NYC for free again, I still definitely want to go back and see more shows.
But I don’t want to talk about all that today. Today I want to write a review for Anastasia the musical. I grew up watching the animated film. In fact, it was always a favorite. So I was equal parts nervous and excited to see it in musical form. Instead of formatting this like I do my book and album reviews, I’m instead going to discuss what I liked about the show and what I didn’t like. Because I’m a positive person, let’s start with the good and end with the bad.
What I Liked:
- Historical Accuracy: Even though I love the magical aspect of Rasputin’s villainy in the animated version, it bears no resemblance to actual events. Rasputin wasn’t evil nor was he the reason for the Romanov family’s demise. In actuality, the Bolsheviks held a revolution. The Romanovs were killed by their own guards. Communism rose and St. Petersburg became Leningrad. The musical is acutely aware of this and removes the character of Rasputin altogether. The majority of the show takes place explicitly in Communist Russia. This was a change I thought was very effective and strives to rectify the oversimplification done by the animated version.
- Music: I love the music so much. It updates old classics (“Journey to the Past,” “Once Upon a December,” “A Rumor in St. Petersburg,” “Learn to Do It,” and “Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart)”) and adds several new songs that are sure to become classics in their own right. Some of my favorites among the new songs are “In My Dreams,” “Land of Yesterday,” and “In a Crowd of Thousands.” All the vocals are fantastic and emotive. I can’t wait to play this soundtrack to death.
- Gleb’s Arc: Along with the changes to make the show more historical comes the character of Gleb. Gleb is a Bolshevik general who believes whole-heartedly in the Communist direction of Russia. However, rather than being a villain, he’s just a man who means well and wants to better his country. Along the way, he develops feelings for Anya. His arc was the one that interested me the most, partially because it’s new and partially because it’s a good arc. I don’t want to give anything away, but just know he goes through great character development.
- Expanded Character Development: Speaking of character development, most of the previously existing characters were given expanded histories. This helped make their characterization more robust and thus improved their character development. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say the Dowager Empress is the only character we didn’t get much more information about.
- Vlad & Lily: Despite being the comic relief, these two are honestly the most engaging characters in the whole show. As I said, we learn much more about them, making us far more empathetic to their affair. If you haven’t seen the show yet, I recommend seeing it based on them alone.
- Costumes & Set Design: The costumes and set design were gorgeous. Anya’s dresses were especially stunning. The stage had three revolving portions for quick scene changes and each one looked fabulous. I wish I could’ve taken pictures, but it’s prohibited during Broadway shows.
What I Disliked:
- Nana’s Lullaby: I didn’t like that they changed the lullaby to the “Once Upon a December” lyrics. That lessens the impact of Anya slowly remembering her past. In the movie, she remembers the tune and select sounds and images, but not the song itself. Having “Once Upon a December” actually be the lullaby rushes this. Sure, this is nitpicky, but it really rubs me the wrong way.
- Romanov Family: Despite making the show more historical, the Romanov family is still romanticized a lot. There’s maybe one line that acknowledges their greed and imperialism. I get that we’re supposed to want Anya to be part of that family, but it feels dishonest. Again, this is kind of nitpicky, but if you’re going to make your show more historical then this should’ve been taken into more consideration.
- Romance: One of my favorite aspects of the 1997 movie is the dynamic and romance between Anya and Dimitri. And the musical has that as well… to a lesser extent. They seem meaner to each other than they are in the movie, so it’s less sexual tension and more uncomfortable tension. Past that, I didn’t feel like the romance is built up as well as it is in the animated version. It’s still obvious they’re endgame and that they have feelings for each other, but it just doesn’t feel as well established.
- Ending: The ending is a lot like the ending to the 1997 version. In fact, I have the same conflicted feelings for it that I do the animated version. The problem is it feels much more abrupt in the musical. I thought something more was going to happen, but instead it just ended. I wish that had been handled with a little more care. Finales are vital to musicals.
Despite the fact that I have a good handful of issues with it, I really love this show. I don’t feel like my issues hindered my enjoyment of it at all. It’s different enough from the film I grew up watching that I didn’t keep comparing the two. It was a new experience altogether. I am so glad this show exists. Seeing this show doesn’t just feel like a journey to the past, but a journey to the future as well.