There are some ’90s kids out there who might remember watching the animated film, “Anastasia.” It had the perfect set up for a fairytale—a lost princess singing her way on an exciting new adventure filled with family, love and a few too many historical inaccuracies (history buffs, this story is not for you). But, for those who are a fan of magical stories, this stage adaption will be a beloved favorite for the entire family.
Similar to the 1997 movie, “Anastasia” takes place in the early 20th century loosely based on historical events of the Russian Romanov royal family and their downfall, which leads us into the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1927, we meet Anya (Lila Coogan), a street cleaner who can’t remember her identity due to amnesia but who has a feeling that her fate lies in Paris. She meets two conmen, Dimitry (Stephen Brower) and Vlad (Edward Satudenmayer), who convince her to pose as the Grand Duchess Anastasia, in hopes of fooling Anastasia’s grandmother, Dowager Empress (Joy Franz), and claim her reward money. They soon learn that Anya couldn’t be more perfect for this role.
Coogan first enters the stage as Anastasia in a grand ball with her family and I do understand there’s a lot of pressure when bringing a beloved animated character to life. At times, it felt like Coogan’s portrayal missed a beat or two in making us feel connected to Anya, while her overacting seems more suited for the children watching. However, the confidence was certainly found in her voice as she beautifully sang the fan favorites from the film, “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December” winning over the “Anastasia” fans in the audience (including a few who were softly singing along).
Speaking of the movie, you’ll notice plenty of differences. The most noticeable is that the fictional sorcerer Rasputin (and his talking bat sidekick) is replaced by Gleb (Jason Michael Evans), a dedicated member of the Bolsheviks as he obediently follows their strict orders. This new villain ties into the post-Tsar rule of Russia as his role intervenes more with Anya.
Another character worth noting is Dimitry, a favorite from the movie as Anya’s stubborn love interest. Brower brings more emotion to the role of Dimitry thanks to the addition of new songs such as “My Petersburg” and “In a Crowd of Thousands.” Then, there’s Satudenmayer as Vlad, who steals the show along with a new character, Countess Lily (Tari Kelly), as they sing about their mischievous affair when they were members on the Imperial Court in their hilarious tango duet, “The Countess and the Con Man.”
Of course, while the musical has plenty of new additions, they don’t bring as much joy as the original songs, which spark a sense of nostalgia for some of us in the audience. By far, the costumes by Linda Cho and the set design are what really capture the beauty from the original film. When Anya steps out in her gowns, you can’t help but be whisked away in the land of make-believe as you follow the story of finding family and love on this adventure. The set design pays homage to the animated film with a digital backdrop that transforms you from the Russian railways to the gorgeous streets of Paris.
While “Anastasia” is known as a children’s animated film, how does the musical compare for a younger audience? Yes, there a few scenes a bit darker than the original, but they’re brief and won’t bother your children if you fill them in with the actual history. One disclaimer is that there are gunshot effects and strobe lights, so be prepared for that. All in all, we recommend the show for older kids who will enjoy the tale as it is—a magical journey to the past.
If you go
Runs through April 7
James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Recommended for ages 8 and older
Tickets start at $27
Find more information at broadwayinchicago.com.
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