Across Canada
Anastasia book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens

When and Where March 7-12, 2023; Tue - Sat evenings at 8pm, Sun evening at 7:30pm and matinees on Sat and Sun at 2pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Director Sarah Hartmann Music Director Glenn Alexander II Choreograher Bill Burns Scenic Design Alexander Dodge Lighting Design Donald Holder Costume Design Linda Cho Sound Design Peter Hylensk

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Anastasia is part historical fiction, part caper story and part romance. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution a rumour has spread that Anastasia, the youngest Romanov daughter, escaped being murdered with the rest of her family. In 1920's Moscow, Anya has been so traumatised that she has lost all memory of her life before waking in hospital. She meets Dmitry, a dashing young con man and his partner in crime, Vlad Popov, once a minor courtier. Dmitry and Vlad have a plan. They want to find an Anastasia look-alike, present her to the Dowager Empress in Paris and collect the reward money. Anya is caught up in their plot but as they coach her in Romanov family history and court manners, flashes of memory or knowledge hint that she may truly be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. With these hopes they set off for Paris by train. Meanwhile, the Bolshevik government want to capture both `Anastasia' and the criminal con men. General Gleb Vaganov is hot on the trail.

From Romanov balls to Russian émigré night clubs, this lush and lavish production is full of sweeping dance numbers, one of which elegantly marks the passage of time as Anastasia grows up. Even Swan Lake makes an appearance. Rich, cinematic projections and opulent sets partner magnificent costumes, especially for the aristocratic characters. The lower classes wear drabber colours. It takes some measured time before the major characters emerge from the crowd. Only a uniformed Gleb (Christian McQueen) stands out, his resonant and velvet baritone a few scenes later working the contrasts in "The Neva Flows" which annotates the Revolution's violence yet indulges in the flowering to come out of it.

Dmitry (Willem Butler) is a quick and lively presence with a charming tenor. No wonder Anya (Veronica Stern) is attracted. The two of them knock sparks off each other. Veronica Stern is a superlative Anya. Blessed with a clear and supple voice, she is completely credible as the vulnerable amnesiac in the first act and her longing to find her own story is palpable. By the second act, in Paris, she is dazzling. Elegant, glowing with inner strength, she is everything the true Anastasia might be.

The show opens quietly with the dowager Empress (Gerri Weagraff) saying good-bye to a 7-year old Anastasia (Adriella Goncalves alternately with, Alexandrya Salazar) before leaving Moscow for Paris. This touching scene, lovingly sung, lends gravity to the plot and adds a layer of tension for the audience as the tale unfolds. Years later In Paris the exhausted, old Empress is on the verge of giving up the desperate search for her grand-daughter. Weagraff ties the two ends of the show together with a delicate skill.

Also in the cast are Bryan Seastrom as louche but lovable crook, Count Vlad Popov and the Countess Lily ( Rebecca Hartman), lady-in-waiting to the Empress. Their set piece seduction scene is a polished delight of sophisticated vivacity.

Always sensitive to his singers and dancers on stage, Glenn Alexander II encouraged precise and heartfelt playing from the pit.

There is much to enjoy here if also some things to evade. The afficionado will find references galore to other musicals; the history buff might be less pleased; the romantic can luxuriate in a tale of princesses and proletarians, conflicted villains and bitter-sweet endings.

© 2023 Elizabeth Paterson