While the story may feel familiar, this musical knows the right notes to hit.
Kyla Stone as the titular heroine and the rest of the company in "Anastasia." Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
The male protagonist of "Anastasia," Dmitry, sums up the feel of the musical best, singing, "Girl gets a family, boy gets rich, and fairytale gets a spin! How can we fail with everything to win?" While the formula is well-practiced, "Anastasia" had a pleasant opening night turned remarkable by Kyla Stone's singing, which will no doubt hold true for the rest of the performances through Dec. 19.
"Anastasia" was always one of those I-can't-believe-it's-not-animated-Disney movies. A lost Romanov princess, a street urchin trying to scheme his way up, a score of songs hitting all the tropes, from the upbeat backstory to the love duet. ("My Petersburg" is to "Anastasia" as "One Jump Ahead" is to Aladdin," and "In a Crowd of Thousands" is a more literal version of "Tangled"'s "See the Light." As much as I hated to be cliche, they were still my favorite songs, thanks to Sam McLellan's bright-eyed delivery.)
Even with the swap from the film's bumbling but menacing Rasputin to the stoic Bolshevik general Gleb, the musical doesn't skip a beat. Where it does stumble is a somewhat graceless beginning and shallow character development.
Amped up, though, is the physical comedy between Vlad (the show's most endearing character by Bryan Seastrom) and Countess Lily (Madeline Raube, who brings haughty humor whether she's serving the dowager empress or flirting). Also amplified is the idea of a sympathetic villain: Gleb (played by Brandon Delgado) is one of the more complex characters, and "The Neva Flows" may be the most passionate song of the show. Choreography was hardly the star, but it too had moments of inspiration with camera flashes, a poignant attack on the palace, and a symbolic "Swan Lake."
All these peaks and valleys are smoothed over by Stone, who plays our heroine, and her limitless voice. I went into "Anastasia" only knowing the film, so Stone's opening solo, "In My Dreams," was completely new. I don't remember the words or even the melody, but I do remember how it took just a few lines for me to realize that her impact is not a question about her ability to hit the pitch or the volume or the tone. It's a matter of musical direction since she can do it all effortlessly.
Overall, "Anastasia" isn't always magical, but its creators knew what they were doing. Everything about it is done with broad strokes that can be conveyed to the whole theater, from the acting to the projection design on the set, and that, to my eyes, makes it particularly great for families (a fact Hennepin Theatre Trust is well aware of—check out Family Night on Dec. 15). Regardless of whom you go with, expect a comforting story, some nostalgia, and an unforgettable voice.