Anastasia opens Once Upon a December 7, 2021 at the Orpheum in Minneapolis, and I am gleefully reminded that this is, at its heart, a love story. Anastasia is one of the rare musical productions that effectively communicates a storyline through song while keeping the audience engaged. Anastasia is also a reminder of the power of lyric to bring back memories.
The production is a family-friendly affair with classic fairly-tale moments, cheeky dialogue, and colorful costumes; there are also elements of the darker side of history and human nature that may prompt self-reflection and perhaps meaningful dialogue. Despite knowing the story, I found newness in the telling, and suspense in the unfolding.
Rest assured that in the end, love wins.
The curtain opens to Anastasia in St. Petersburg, the youngest daughter of the Romanov family, sharing tender moments with her Nonna, father (Tzar Nicholas II), brother, and sisters. A revolution is brewing, and the family is later executed – all, except for Anya, left with no memories. She encounters Dimitri who grooms Anya to be the Grand Duchess, with the intent of securing a reward from Anastasia’s grandmother, for the Duchess’ safe return in Paris.
In this Journey to the Past, Anya begins to recover memories, so much so that the swindle catches the attention of General Gleb Vaganov, whose father was responsible for the execution of the Romanov family. Gleb’s mission is to return honor to his father’s name by carrying out the original order. And Dimitri and Anya, along with their friend and mentor/guide Count Ipolitov, must escape to Paris before the border closes.
The diversity within the cast is refreshing, and the performances powerful. The main characters are portrayed with depth: Dimitri is more than just a con-artist, Anya is more than just a street sweeper, and the villain Gleb, is more than just a soldier executing orders. The actors’ ability to portray the internal battles of their characters (a combination of actor and director talent) is impressive, surprising, and moving.
Those who have been missing the theater due to Covid will be happy to see the lobby as well as the stage return to life: there are souvenirs, drinks, snacks, and people enjoying all. (Spoiler alert – you will likely have to choose between refreshments and restrooms during the intermission). The production is a wonderful opportunity to get out on the town and be transported to another time and place. Paris holds the key to your heart!
Anastasia runs through Sunday, December 19, 2021 at The Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Tickets start at $40.
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Review by Kavita Battula; photo by Jeremy Daniel