Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Anastasia"

A technological tour de force with exquisite stagecraft and a masterful deployment of projections and LED displays, "Anastasia" is more than a standard stage musical. It's a paradigm-pushing multimedia experience that blurs the lines between cinema and theater.

Those expecting a twee, kid-friendly show may be surprised by the density of the material. This is a thoughtful and resonant historical study, treating the material and culture with care and reverence.

A voyage into a particularly touchy period of Russian/Soviet history in the first third of the 20th century, it's an inspirational yet carefully cynical tale of mistaken identity, self-deception and socioeconomic presence. We're taken to a Leningrad, and -- in the second act -- Paris struggling to come to grips with their cultural identities and geopolitical visions. At the center of the fracas lingers the at times literal ghosts of the slain Romanov family, which has been assassinated in the name of progress.

Rumors abound that the young heiress Anastasia has survived in hidden exile, and is poised to re-emerge and stake her claim of inheritance of the last slivers of Russian oligarchy, as well as a tidy monetary inheritance. Anastasia mania has swept the world, sparking an untold number of 20-somethings to step forward as pretend Anastasias. The story follows Anya, an amnesiac who buddies up with two opportunists who are only two happy to push forward her claim to the shattered throne.

Lila Coogan thrives in the lead role, blending the required naivete with a burgeoning self-confidence and drive. It also helps that she can belt out tunes with a pop star's exuberance, and has the dance moves to match.

She's supported well by the likes of Jake Levy and Jason Michael Evans, conjuring a playful triangle of deception and mild jealousy. The raspy Joy Franz delivers a resonant, workmanlike performance as Dowager Empress, whose emotional connection with young Anastasia and grown-up Anya is the emotional key to the story.

The creative team of director Darko Tresnjak and choreographer Peggy Hickey keeps the story flowing with urgency and momentum, making for a crowd-pleasing enterprise that thrives on emotion, personality clashes and unpredictability.

"Anastasia" is an eye-popping joy to behold, a benchmark in the evolution of its storytelling medium and just plain fun as well. Unlike the questionable identity of its main character, this one is no imposter.

"Anastasia" plays through Sunday at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

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