Arts & Entertainment, Features, Reviews

REVIEW: BU On Broadway’s ‘Anastasia’ is a dazzling ‘journey to the past’

“Dancing bears, painted wings, things I almost remember, and a song someone sings, once upon a December …”

The nostalgic lyrics and twinkling orchestral accompaniment of “Once Upon a December” instantly transport audience members at “Anastasia” into early 20th century St. Petersburg, Russia — a magical world of music boxes and lavish balls. Yet, for both the audience and the protagonist, the sentimental elegance of this world will soon be shattered.

Kai Farr as Dmitry, Lauren SanFanAndre as Anastasia and other members of the ensemble in Boston University On Broadway’s production of “Anastasia.” SARAH CRUZ/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Boston University On Broadway performed the musical “Anastasia” from Thursday through Saturday at the Tsai Performance Center.

Based on the 1997 animated film, the production featured songs from the film as well as a large selection of original compositions.

Set in Russia in the years after the Bolshevik Revolution, “Anastasia” is loosely based on the legend of the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. She is believed by some to have been the lone survivor of the Romanov family’s brutal execution by Bolshevik revolutionaries.

Following the musical’s prologue 20 years later, Anastasia is now Anya, a poor young woman working as a street-sweeper in Leningrad, formerly known as St. Petersburg. Although she suffers from amnesia that leaves her with few memories of her past, Anya is determined to reunite with her family in Paris.

Lauren SanFanAndre, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, is perfectly cast as the titular Anastasia. She is able to simultaneously embody the character’s plucky strength and infectious energy, as well as her self-doubt and anxiety about her identity.

SanFanAndre has the voice of a Disney princess: clear, bright and sweet, yet powerful. She expertly delivers every song, especially the show-stopping “Journey to the Past” which closes the musical’s first act.

As Dmitry, a sly and charming con-artist, Kai Farr lights up the stage within the first few seconds of his performance. Farr, a junior in the College of Communication, has a soaring tenor range best displayed in “My Petersburg,” in which he recounts his childhood as an orphan.

Unfortunately, technical difficulties with the microphones occasionally hindered the audience’s ability to appreciate the two lead singers’ talents. Nevertheless, the cast members handled the sound issues like professionals. The show must go on, and so it did.

In his duplicitous pursuits, Dmitry is accompanied by Vlad Popov, an older former member of the Bolshevik imperial court who is played by Daniel Ulrich, a sophomore in the College of Engineering.

In hopes of receiving a hefty monetary reward from the Dowager Empress, Dmitry and Vlad concoct a Pygmalion-esque scheme to teach a young woman to impersonate the lost Anastasia, and quickly pick Anya to be their imposter Romanov. As Anya practices inhabiting the role of the patrician aristocrat, she and Dmitry begin to open up to each other, and eventually fall in love.

Dowager Empress, played by Sam Sampliner, gives Young Anastasia, played by Caitlin Manna, a music box in the musical’s opening scene. SARAH CRUZ/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

However, every story must have its antagonist. For Anya —and the people of Leningrad — it is Gleb, a Bolshevik general who is obsessed with her. Christian Hoffmeister, a sophomore in ENG, uses his strong stage presence and baritone voice to deeply portray the character’s inner turmoil and conflict.

At times, the group dance numbers could become muddled and messy when the choreography leaned toward over-ambitiousness. Still, the chorus made up for with its strong singing, which propelled the musical forward through both upbeat and somber moments.

Throughout its two hour, 30 minute runtime, “Anastasia” is able to tip-toe between moments of touching emotion and humorous levity.

“Stay, I Pray You,” one of the musical’s most emotionally moving songs, is heartbreaking in its quiet simplicity. Count Ipolitov, played by Jozef Janak, a sophomore in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, leads the crowd of Russians in a prayer to their homeland before they board the train to Paris, leaving their past behind forever.

On the humorous side, a personal favorite is “The Countess and the Common Man,” performed by Vlad and Countess Lily, a former fling and the Dowager Countess’s lady-in-waiting.

The pair’s chemistry and physical comedy skills are impeccable, elevating an already funny tune into a laugh-out-loud duet. The song also gives Maia Penzer, a sophomore in COM, an opportunity to show off her powerhouse vocals as Countess Lily.

When Anya and her grandmother, the Dowager Empress played by Sophie Sampliner, finally reunite in the show’s final scenes, it is a moment of catharsis. Sampliner, a freshman in CAS, imbues the Dowager Empress with the regal poise and maturity necessary to be believable as an elderly former aristocrat.

As the chorus sings a rousing reprise of “Once Upon a December,” Anya and Dmitry — finally freed from the constant cycle of rumors and gossip — leave Paris to begin a new life together.

The words that Anya sang in “Journey to the Past,” before her trip to Paris, still ring true.

“One step at a time, one hope, then another, who knows where this road may go?”

(From left) Kai Farr as Dimitry, Lauren SanFanAndre as Anastasia and Daniel Ulrich as Vlad at the end of the musical number, “Learn to Do It.” SARAH CRUZ/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Maia Penzer is a lifestyle associate editor. She was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

Features Co-Editor Siena Griffin is the assistant tech director of Anastasia at BU On Broadway. She was not involved in the reporting or editing of this article.

More Articles

Comments are closed.