“Anastasia” – a retrospective

Addison Etnier, Staff Writer

I make no secret of the fact that my favorite musical is “Anastasia.” The music, the story—the rumor, the legend, the mystery—make it a beautiful modern classic fairytale about love and finding your own identity.

“Anastasia” is based off the 1997 animated film of the same name. (It was originally produced by Fox before the company was acquired by Disney in 2019–it is not a Disney movie by nature, contrary to popular belief.) The movie was inspired by the rumors of the youngest Russian Romanov princess’ survival from execution, and the imposters that followed. Though scientists discovered in 2007 that Anastasia did not survive the execution, the myth lives on.

The film follows Anya, a young adult amnesiac who slowly discovers that she is the princess Anastasia. She believes she has family in Paris, and so teams up with con artists Vlad and Dimitri to travel to Paris in the hopes that she is the missing Grand Duchess Anastasia, and will be reunited with her grandmother there. Vlad and Dimitri, meanwhile, seek to use this plan to earn the reward the Empress has promised for her granddaughter’s return. However, Dimitri’s motivations become complicated once he begins to develop feelings for Anya. The villain, Rasputin, hunts down Anya in the hopes of breaking the curse that befell him since she survived the execution. The film included hit songs like “Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past.”

The musical version came into exist in 2016, and came to Broadway in 2017. I discovered the soundtrack and it quickly became my favorite musical despite my never having seen it. However, the show made its way on tour, and I was able to view a showing of it in March of 2020, right before the tour was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The musical’s story varies slightly from the movie, though its core elements remain the same. The biggest note about the story is that it is written to be more historically accurate; the magical villain was replaced with Bolshevik officer Gleb. He spends the entirety of the musical tracking down Anya on the behalf of the Bolshevik government to discover whether or not she is truly Anastasia—with orders to kill her if she is.

For the most part, the songs from the movie are left intact for the Broadway edition, but the musical adds 16 new songs. The original creative team worked on the new music, creating a seamless soundtrack with a more mature and stage-ready tone. Listening to the soundtrack alone, highlights are the somber “Stay, I Pray You,” both of Gleb’s dark yet strong songs “The Neva Flows” and “Still,” and the multilayered quartet, “Quartet at the Ballet.” A nice addition was Dmitry’s (yes, the spelling is different) solo song “My Petersburg.”

After watching the stunning show for myself, my instant favorites were “Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart),” a song from the original that was not too interesting based on audio alone, but the choreography astonished me, and “Land of Yesterday,” an extremely fun song where the actors were all over the top and entertaining. This one has shot to the top of my list of overall favorites; it is extremely fun to sing in the car. “In a Crowd of Thousands,” a duet between Anya and Dmitry, is a fan favorite.

Like many musicals, “Anastasia” tells its story through both songs and a play. These music-less moments were gripping and have wonderfully human interactions between the characters, benefitting the overall story. The most striking aspect from my viewing that I still remember was the haunting prologue. The scene takes us from a happy moment between Anastasia and her grandmother to the night of the Bolshevik attack. Whimsical pale lighting quickly turned blood red as fog filled the stage. We see Anastasia run back upstage for her music box, a gift from her grandmother, before we hear gunshots and the lights go off. It was chilling, yet striking.

“Anastasia” as a movie was fun and told a beautiful tale of romance and self-discovery. The musical enhances every aspect, making it an energetic and beautiful experience. Despite my ever-increasing knowledge of musicals, “Anastasia” has never left my side as my favorite.