The most gorgeous looking show on Broadway is “Anastasia,” thanks largely to scenic design by Alexander Dodge coupled with the fabulous projection design by Aaron Rhyne, who has used the art of projection with imagination and three-dimensional effectiveness above and beyond what we usually see. “Anastasia,” with a book by Terrence McNally, lush music by Stephen Flaherty and meaningful lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, transports us to Russia and France in grand style.
One might be wary of the subject matter, as the tale of Anastasia, purportedly a survivor of the massacre of royals in the Russian revolution, has been well worked over. However, the charm and passion emanating from this production justify having another look via a musical with an abundance of expertise in the staging (direction by Darko Tresnjak) and the acting by a cast that can stir emotions with impressive singing.
Christy Altomare, who plays Anya, a young woman working as a street sweeper, has a great voice. Anya has a lapsed memory and is taken over by two charlatans, who scheme to groom her as Anastasia, who was a child when the rulers were murdered by the revolutionaries. They claim she survived. The three, Vlad (John Bolton), Dmitry (Derek Klena) and Anya must escape from Russia when their lives are threatened by Gleb (Ramin Karimloo), a functionary in the new regime, who has a personal as well as a political reason for wanting to kill the presumed Anastasia, but he also finds her attractive. Anya has a conflict. She begins to think she may be the real Anastasia, not the hoax in which she has been participating.
When the three reach Paris, we are introduced to the Russians in exile, who congregate at a favorite club and who reminisce about the past. Foremost is the Czar’s mother, the Dowager Empress, who cherished Anastasia as a child before she leaving Russia for Paris in the nick of time. Mary Beth Peil plays her with dignity and grace and adds a special note of class to the show when she sings. The Dowager Empress is the one to convince, but she is fed up with the parade of women who write and claim to be Anastasia.
Her aide is Countess Lily, played to comic effect by Caroline O’Connor, an audience pleaser who cuts up with dance (choreography by Peggy Hickey) and shtick. Along the way there is an attraction between Anya and Dmitry, who begins to have thoughts of being honest. Meanwhle Gleb arrives in Paris to stalk his prey.
The story is punctuated with numbers and movement that add sweep to the saga as we watch all integrated into the production design, with Lindo Cho’s dazzling costume design adding to the musical’s elegant look.
Of course, there is a problem in how to end the story, as in reality it cannot be said that Anastasia really existed, despite what happens when the Dowager Empress meets Anastasia and the clue that we know will come is produced. But by the final curtain we have witnessed an extravaganza heightened by a pleasurable visual experience along with the enjoyable score and vocals. At the Broadhurst Theater, 235 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 28, 2017.