“Anastasia” – Broadway Across America – Arizona ASU Gammage

Theater Review – November 1, 2019


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

“Anastasia” musicalizes the well known life of the last Russian Czar’s fourth daughter.  It is a grand story not only about the young woman’s maturation but also about the crumbling reign of the aristocracy that sought personal wealth while everyday Russians suffered.  The historical tale demands a big production to represent the conspicuous consumption of the ruling class but it must also display the common man’s plight.

Unfortunately, Terrence McNally’s book inspired by the film tells the story with dry, plodding dullness while Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens unmelodic songs also don’t fit the plot’s grandeur.  Bland historic characters that should have been dynamic become tedious and expository scenes that fill in historic details makes for a pokey, lifeless show full of musical comedy clichés.  There’s not a song you will leave the theater humming.

Couple the weak show with dull, predictable dances patterned after the unsuccessful Broadway musical that lull the audience into naps if not deep sleep.  The cast limps along with the male actors a bit better than the female performers but the coup that sends this production into the doldrums is casting an obvious chorine as the show’s lead.

Lila Coogan, whose short program biography reveals little musical theater distinction, never commands any attention as Anya.  The character must dominate the show, something Coogan is not capable of handling.  Her shrill and shrieking crooning is embarrassing plus she does nothing to create a historic character full of luster.  In her first scene she should evoke immediate audience attention but it takes quite some time before you realize the show’s central focus has arrived.  Anya is a strong willed character but not in Coogan’s whimpering performance.  Also weak is Joy Franz who plays the Dowager Empress who finally begins to believe in Anya with boring old age truisms.

Jake Levy as Anya’s love interest and Jason Michael Evans as the wicked Gleb are adequate.  But while Evans’ character is vicious, why is such blatantly high schoolish evil make-up  necessary?  Only Tari Kelly and Edward Staudenmayer as the Countess Lily and Vlad stop the show briefly in the second act with an amusing comedy number.

Physically the production looks big and expensive.  The lush costumes evoke the era with beauty and the sets look bold but they are mostly projections that never stop moving as they come at you and move back as they shift focus from the unfolding story.

“Anastasia” plods where it should soar and the limpid production doesn’t do anything to stimulate the musical to vibrant theatrical life.  “Anastasia” continues through Sunday, November 3 at ASU Gammage.  To order tickets, contact Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: C