“Anastasia” Live: This Little Jewel Box Musical is Done Just Right

Written by | Stage

Based on the animated 1997 animated movie, Anastasia the live musical trades on familiar tropes. Ultimately, the stage production finds its own way in this charming music box of a fairytale crafted from the embers of the Russian Revolution.

Playing now through November 17th at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Anastasia hits all the right notes. There’s a magical story and a superb cast who adeptly deliver. Its first act is set in St. Petersburg, where the Dowager Empress spends time with her granddaughter Anastasia before embarking on a trip to Paris. The Empress gives her a music box as a keepsake, assuring her that someday they will be reunited in France.

Rumor Has It

Eleven years later, Anastasia (who’s now 17) is at a ball with her family in the royal palace when revolution breaks out, claiming the lives of her entire family, except for the empress living in Paris. Ten years later, rumors begin to circulate that Anastasia has miraculously survived. Two conmen, Vlad and Dmitry, hatch a plot to exploit the rumors for their own personal gain, holding auditions to find a young woman who can plausibly pass as Anastasia. No one fits the bill, that is until an impoverished street sweeper enters the picture who (coincidentally) suffers from amnesia.

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Sweet Sentiments

Like a good Hallmark movie, you can pretty much connect the dots as to how this fable is going to end. The plot may be predictable, but like the bejeweled music box that’s central to the plot, this beautifully staged musical is an intricately wound crowd pleaser, starting with Lila Coogan as its leading lady. As the street urchin/amnesiac princess ingénue, Coogan projects just the right balance of innocence and grit to pull off lines like “How do you become the person you forgot you ever were.”

When she closes out Act One, her powerful vocals soar. Jake Levy is a little too clean-cut to be believed as a con man, but proves more convincing as Anastasia’s eventual love interest. Toward the end of the first act, Anastasia feels she can trust Dmitry and gives him a diamond which had been sewn into her undergarments which enables the three of them to flee Russia and bring their plan to fruition.

Gilded Lily

The second act takes place in Paris as conmen Vlad and Dmitry endeavor to arrange a meeting between the empress and Anastasia. In order to do so, they must go through the empress’s Lady-in-Waiting, Countess Lily, from whom Vlad carried a torch back in their native Russia.

Tari Kelly turns in a masterful comedic performance as Countess Lily that injects a welcome dose of humor into an otherwise traditional musical, particularly as Vlad and Lily’s sexual heat revs up. In two back-to-back musical numbers, she nearly stops the show cold with a physical comedy reminiscent of old-school comediennes like Bette Midler and Carol Burnett.

Tugging Heartstrings

By the time Anastasia finally gets a chance to make her case to the grandmother that she is in fact her long-lost relative, the empress is disillusioned and suspicious that all contenders are merely imposters out to cash in. Anastasia lashes out at Dmitry for giving her false hope, questioning the validity of her relation to the Empress. Unbeknownst to Anastasia, Dmitry intercedes on Anastasia’s behalf, pleading her case to the Empress and selflessly refusing any reward. When the Empress brings this to Anastasia’s attention, she urges her granddaughter to follow her heart. And that’s exactly what she does.

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Last modified: November 12, 2019