The stage musical (Ed Mirvish Theatre,Toronto), though based on historical fact, is inspired by the 1997 animated movie and the 1956 film starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner. It outlines the story of Anya (Lila Coogan), a young amnesiac in post-Revolution Russia who is being hoodwinked by a couple of fast talking swindlers, Dmitry (Jake Levy) and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer), into believing she is Czar Nicholas II’s youngest daughter. Its rumored Anastasia escaped the assassination of her Romanov family (she didn’t) by the Bolsheviks during the 1918 revolution.
The duo is grooming Anya to present herself to the surviving royal grandmother, the Dowager Empress (Joy Franz), and her aide Countess Lily (Tari Kelly), now living in Paris. The scam would allow Anya to claim the crown and the two baddies grab the reward being offered for her return. Anya, a common street sweeper with a down-and-out-past and no sense of family or identity, is on a quest to unravel details of her early life. Innocent about the real purpose of Dmitry and Vlad’s villainous plot, the brave young woman falls in with them undergoing a Henry Higgins-style makeover in manner and deportment.
There’s an obstacle to the plan however: Gleb (Jason Michael Evans), a Bolshevik general is suspicious of, and attracted to Anya — his father is responsible for killing the Romanovs. He, like Javert, circles like a vulture waiting for the opportunity to pounce and expose Anya’s real identity, even while embracing romantic desires. He’s the real villain in this theatrical reworking of true events, while history records Rasputin (not a character in this show), a mystic, self-proclaimed holy man and a charlatan, was involved with the Romanov’s.
The book, by master playwright Terrence McNally, integrates entertaining fiction with harsh history, and Tony Award winning songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime,” “Seussical”) who composed the songs for the animated film, have added new tunes. Its a compelling musical stirring emotions, excitement and comic relief.
The presentation is painted with a lush eye-filling elegance paying homage to traditional musical theatre of yore. Women theatre goers will particularly be envious of the extravagant period costumes bolstering the romantic elements of the narrative. Upstage video and digital projections create a past world where politics play have-and-have-not havoc with the lives of the citizenry.
“Anastasia”, a creatively clever pastiche of history and make believe, entertains onstage at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre through January 12.