From the moment when the curtain rises on the Durham Performing Arts Center’s April 16-21 presentation of Anastasia, directed by Tony Award® winner Darko Tresnjak, and we are introduced to Little Anastasia (Delilah Rose Pellow) and her grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna (Joy Franz), the audience is entranced, and the rest of the world melts away. The sets are mesmerizing, the music is stunning and emotional, and the costumes are breathtaking; but it’s the story of the Russian royal family, the Romanovs, that drives this fabulous production.
Literally just off a two-year run on Broadway, this musical version of Anastasia was inspired by the 1997 Twentieth Century Fox motion picture by the same name. It features a book by Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally, music and lyrics by Tony-winning Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, choreography by MTV Award winner Peggy Hickey, scenic design by Alexander Dodge, and costume design by Linda Cho.
Though their work is behind the scenes, in this production, they are truly the stars, and without the stupendous sets and sumptuous costumes, this show would be good but not off-the-charts great, as it is now. As a result of their creative forces, this show has garnered Tony, Drama Desk, and Other Critics Circle awards and nominations and has played to sold-out crowds.
But a musical is nothing without its singers, and the opening-night cast was as entrancing as the sets and costumes.
Anastasia/Anya, played by Lila Coogan, is a character searching for a family that she barely remembers. The youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Russian monarch, she loses her freedom in 1917, when the Bolsheviks overthrow the government. After a long captivity, the family is shot and killed on July 17, 1918; but rumors circulate that Anastasia has survived; and through the years, imposters attempt to convince Anastasia’s grandmother, the Dowager Empress (who left for Paris before the revolution) that they are her lost granddaughter.
The film and the movie are historically accurate up to the moment when Anya/Anastasia meets with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress; the Romanovs’ bodies were found and identified, and it was proven that Anastasia was, indeed, shot and died with her family when DNA tests were done on the remains in 2007.]
Lila Coogan plays the teenage Anya, a street cleaner who lost her memory after a trauma that left her half-dead on a road and was hospitalized. Reluctant at first to take on the persona of the missing Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, Anya is convinced by Dimitry (Matt Rosell) and his partner-in-crime, a sleazy former member of the Romanov court, Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer), to go along with their plan to escape Russia, travel to Paris, and present their Anastasia imposter to the Dowager Empress — and retrieve the reward that the Empress offered if anyone could bring her beloved granddaughter to her.
Coogan’s voice and range are incredible; and when she reaches for the big notes, then holds them, she sends shivers up the audience’s spine, but it’s her control that is most impressive. Her signature song, “Once Upon a December,” is reprised several times throughout the production and reveals the many colors of Coogan’s voice.
But it’s not only her voice that is perfect for this production. Her chemistry with her co-conspirator Dmitry, as well as the conflicted revolutionary Gleb (Jason Michael Evans), carries their scenes in a breathless fashion that deepens the impact of the story.
Matt Rosell’s Dmitry is both conniving and innocent. He’s doing the best he can in a country that doesn’t feed its population, even though the Bolsheviks promised to do so; and his clear-eyed vision of escaping the country motivates him to find a girl to impersonate Anastasia. Little does he know that he’ll fall in love with Anya, the imposter he convinces to take on the job.
Rosell, a last-minute replacement for Cody Simpson on opening night, faced the challenge admirably. His chemistry with Lila Coogan was strong, his voice was smooth and adaptable, and his acting impressive. However, the best part about his role is his connection with his partner-in-crime, Vlad; and their scenes together are accomplished with comedic timing and choreography.
Edward Staudemeyer shines on stage as Vlad, the fallen noble who watches the world that he knows dissipate. His upbeat performance and interesting, growly voice play off the other characters; but when he takes the stage with his old love, Countess Lily (Tari Kelly), the Dowager Empress’ lady in waiting, they steal the show. Their unbridled passion and need to recapture their love become a comedy of sexual errors that absolutely delights.
No matter whether you know the story of the fallen Russian royals or not, this is a Cinderella story that encompasses the richness of that era in St Petersburg, brings us to the opulence of Paris in the 1920s, and charms with a powerful story of family and love that thoroughly entertains.
SECOND OPINION: April 17th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Review by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-ANASTASIA-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20190417 and April 8th BWW Interview with Joy Franz, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interview-Joy-Franz-of-ANASTASIA-National-Tour-20190408; April 17th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Hollyann Gardner for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/anastasia-is-memorable-inspiring/; and April 17th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/04/dpacs-anastasia-is-pure-fairy-tale-magic/.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents ANASTASIA at 7:30 p.m. April 18, 8 p.m. April 19, 2 and 8 p.m. April 20, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. April 21 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $31 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here to enter the digital lottery for $25 Rush Tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/anastasia-touring-tickets/artist/2480269.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/anastasia-on-sale-at-dpac-on-november-15.
THE TOUR: https://anastasiathemusical.com/, https://anastasiathemusical.com/tour/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/anastasia–518302, https://www.facebook.com/AnastasiaBway/, https://twitter.com/anastasiabway, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anastasia_(musical), and https://www.youtube.com/c/AnastasiaTheMusical.
TOUR CAST & CREATIVE TEAM: https://anastasiathemusical.com/cast-and-creative/#tour#tour.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, April 20th, performance.
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.