Picture this: I was minding my own business, listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Anastasia (which you can find on Spotify HERE!) when I wondered, as I often found myself doing, if the touring show would be performing nearby in 2020 or 2021. As I searched “Anastasia”, it autocompleted to “Anastasia Vancouver”. As I, well, live in Vancouver… this would be the ideal situation but my initial thoughts were that this was just the Powers That Be at Google knowing where I live (yeah, the part of me that has watched X-Files and Black Mirror is not a huge fan of that) but clicked on it anyway.
After going through denial, shock, and finally settling into giddy acceptance, I realized that the show I had seen four times at various corners of the United States was not only going to be in my country, but at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, a venue I can get to with nothing but my transit pass (much preferable and less expensive than those I needed my passport for).
As I am writing this post, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and theatres all over the world have been closed, with concerts and performances being suspended until an as yet future date with a big question mark. While we wait, I still have hope that I will be able to see my favourite animated movie brought to life on stage once again, this time in the comfort of my own city. While we wait, I thought I would take this opportunity to share my experiences and compare seeing Anastasia in pre-Broadway previews, on Broadway, and on tour.
Hartford Stage, Connecticut.
Four years ago today, I was three-thousand miles from home, going to see my favourite animated movie adapted into a musical on opening night. (One might even say that today is my Ana(stasia)versary…. or maybe not haha.) Today, I’m just as obsessed as I was then (probably even moreso). I wrote two pretty extensive blog posts detailing this experience so I won’t do them injustice by rehashing it all here.
- Anastasia the Musical: My Journey to the Past… and Hartford, Connecticut
- Anastasia the Musical: Summary & Review
I am so happy I was able to see this musical on opening night, and what was actually supposed to be opening night but ended up being a dress rehearsal. It was such a fun opportunity and very cool to be able to say I’ve been a “Fanastasia” since the beginning (hehe).
Broadhurst Theatre, New York.
Over the summer of 2017 I went on a two month long road trip with my family across Canada and the United States. When making a list of the places we wanted to visit along the way, of course New York City was on my list. On the sub-list of that list (trust me, this trip involved a lot of lists), I really wanted to be able to see Anastasia on Broadway. Seeing a real Broadway show is somewhere on pretty much every *Things To Do Before You Die* list (yes, another list) and being able to see one that is so special to me was an amazing experience.
On July 23rd, 2017 we went to the matinee performance. My brother, mom, and I met up with my cousin who lived in New York at the time to go see the show at Broadhurst Theatre. A love of Disney and animated films is one of the things my cousin and I have always had in common, and it was really cool to share this with her. Despite her impressive collection of amassed Playbills, she had yet to see Anastasia and so it was definitely a perfect opportunity to meet up and do something together in her city.
One thing I definitely noticed was how much more signage and decor there was around the theatre. While this may sound obvious, I was so excited with every advertisement I saw around the city and repeatedly squealed over all the instalments around the theatre. It was so exciting to be in New York City for the first time, and I feel like many people go to a Broadway show just for the sake of being able to say they went to one while they were there, so I felt extra lucky to be able to see something I adored for an experience I will always remember.
In my summary of the Hartford show, I mentioned all the merchandise I purchased for about $30 and then I mentioned that things would probably be substantially more expensive once the show was on Broadway –and, oh boy, was I correct! I posted a YouTube video sharing the miscellaneous souvenirs I purchased on my North American road trip, and the merch I purchased at the show is the highlight of it. You can find the video HERE and I start talking about Anastasia at 7:30.
One thing I was really excited about was that the main cast was the same as when I saw the show in Hartford. Shortly after I saw the show, a few of the main roles were filled by different actors. When my cousin purchased the fancy program (and unknowingly peer pressured me into doing the same), she said that it was to commemorate seeing the show with the original cast. The main change between Hartford and Broadway versions was for the role of Gleb, who was portrayed in Hartford by Manoel Felciano and on Broadway by Ramin Karimloo. Both actors were fantastic.
My original summary of the Hartford production holds pretty true to the Broadway show. There were a couple small changes, like having small reprisal versions of longer songs at different parts of the show. The main changes, however, were in a couple of Gleb’s early scenes and “Paris Holds The Key (To Your Heart)”.
After Anya agrees to go with Dmitry and Vlad, the stage transitions into a newsroom/ office situation. In both versions, the staff in the room are on typewriters and they sing a song about how “The Rumours Never End”. It’s a great nod to “A Rumour in St. Petersburg”, but the song was definitely changed. I have no recording (obviously) or anything to prove this or compare it with what was in the Broadway show, but in the Hartford version this scene was much more detailed and the staff were gossiping about the various people in their lives that they had reported and turned in. It definitely added to the whole “neighbour vs neighbour” theme and sets a good tone for Anastasia being caught because of these rumours that were circulating, showing how dangerous this kind of gossip could be.
Another change comes in a similar scene shortly after (post-“Learn to Do It”), where Gleb is in his office and Anya comes in. In the Hartford version, Gleb sings a song called “Anya” and another one called “The Neva Flows” but the Broadway version changes this. He still sings “The Neva Flows” but the song “Anya” (which I was not a huge fan of) is moved to a bit later to when he decides to go after Anya and co., is changed significantly, and renamed “Still”. Near the end of the show there is a “Still/ The Neva Flows” mashup for a reprise where Gleb belts out a dramatic “Anyaaaaaa!” which might be a nod to that original song, but overall I fully support this change!
The other significant change was to the beginning of Act II where the cast arrives in Paris. I talked about this at length in my original summary but basically “Paris Holds The Key” is probably my least favourite song in the 1997 movie but the way they changed it for the musical made it into a highlight. They fleshed out all the cameos that were in the movie and it was such a well-done, multifaceted scene. The best part was the giant Eiffel Tower prop that came on stage! The actors actually climbed it during the song, which was super cool to see. It was such an incredible, elaborate scene.
In the Broadway version, however, the song and scene is significantly shortened. It is, instead, a generic song and dance number with minor Anya/ Dmitry/ Vlad solos and it ends with them crouching mid-stage and the screen projects an image of them ascending the Eiffel Tower with fireworks going off in the distance. I completely understand why they had to remove the physical Eiffel Tower prop as it was the reason that the opening night of the show was originally postponed, and it malfunctioned at the dress rehearsal I saw as well. It makes sense that they would want to play it safe and not deal with this hassle during the Broadway run, and the fact that they still kept the really cool train set definitely eases the sting of disappointment. Shortening the song makes sense for the flow and timing of the overall show, but it was a shame to see the full version go as it really helped me appreciate the scene in the movie more.
It was incredible to be able to see Anastasia on Broadway. The show was beautiful and it was cool to see how they streamlined it to flow better (like the Neva) and truly become an even more breathtaking, cohesive piece of art than it originally was.
Centennial Hall, Arizona.
After I returned from the road trip in 2017, it was announced shortly thereafter that Anastasia would be going on tour. Initially the dates were all in the States and I stalked the website compulsively. The Great Roadtrip of 2017 brought my total number of American states visited to 41 and I decided that crossing another state off my list and seeing Anastasia on tour would be the perfect two-birds-one-stone move. I continuously compared the tour dates to long weekends and days off from work, playing with the idea of seeing it in North Carolina, Wisconsin, or Denver. Those were nixed because the distance making airfare obscene, and as I had planned on going alone it would be too much of an investment for only a couple nights. Orlando became a possibility with the thought of working it into a Disney trip (Disney > crossing another state off the list) but again…. $$$$. San Antonio, Texas became the top contender and I got really close to booking the solo trip when more dates were announced, one of them being in Tucson, Arizona.
You know those scratch maps where you scratch off all the countries you’ve been to? I have one that has the boarders for provinces and states and I was going a little scratch-happy on California/ Nevada and I accidentally crossed state-lines into Arizona with my nail file. So, that settled it… I couldn’t let my map lead people astray by thinking I had been to Arizona when I hadn’t actually, so I had my heart set on a visit to Tucson, where the tour dates fell perfectly over a long weekend I had from work. After talking to my friend about it, we decided to make it into a girls trip!
So on November 22nd, 2019 we headed from Vancouver to Tucson. I actually did one of those a-photo-an-hour blog posts for the travel day which you can check out HERE if you wish!
My friend and I were fortunate enough to attend the 8pm performance on November 23rd. The show was held at Centennial Hall which is on the University of Arizona campus. It was wild to experience a Saturday night in an American college town, as nothing we have up here really compares. It was like walking through the set of some coming-of-age movie and was such a cool experience to frame our viewing of the musical.
I didn’t go as crazy with the memorabilia as I did in Hartford or New York but my friend definitely had a good chuckle at my expense. The majority of the merch was the same as what they had on Broadway, including the bags. I purchased a shirt (it’s essentially the same as the one from New York except the tour dates are on the back… which is super cool), a Christmas ornament (I have started to get one every year from a significant place I traveled to), and the keychain.
At first I was a little apprehensive about seeing the show with the touring cast because I was worried it wouldn’t be “as good”. I was definitely proved wrong!! I was spoiled by seeing Christy Altomare and Derek Klena in the starring roles both prior times, but was so pleasantly surprised by Lila Coogan, Stephan Brower, and the rest of the cast. Lila especially was such a delight. She is so tiny and has such a sweet, dainty speaking voice, but she is truly a powerhouse singer! Lila had the perfect Anya-esque attitude and it was an honour to see her performance, along with that of the rest of the cast.
Other than the different cast, the show was the same for the most part. The one heartbreaking change was the removal of “Crossing A Bridge”, a song that Anya sings once she is in Paris and walking along stage with Pont Alexandre III projected on the screen behind her. The Dowager Empress mentions it at the beginning of the play, when she is talking to young Anastasia about how they will be together in Paris (a main theme of the movie), and walk along this bridge that is named for her (Maria’s) husband and Anastasia’s grandfather, Tsar Alexander III. I thought this was a really beautiful way to link real-life history to the sentimentality and themes of the musical. I feel like my English degree would be revoked if I didn’t feel so strongly about the metaphor of Anya’s crossing a bridge between her life and the one she lost (and is looking for) while SHE IS SINGING ABOUT AND WALKING ACROSS THE BRIDGE THAT HER FATHER LAID THE FOUNDATION STONE FOR! THAT HER GRANDMOTHER PROMISED TO SHOW HER! THAT IS NAMED FOR HER GRANDFATHER! WHERE SHE HAD AN EPIC AND DRAMATIC SHOWDOWN WITH RASPUTIN AND ULTIMATELY DESTROYED HIM AFTER GIVING A SHORT AND SWEET BUT !!ICONIC!! REVENGE SPEECH!!
(Okay, maybe not the last one but I AM VERY PASSIONATE (as you can tell by my all caps) ABOUT THIS SCENE AND ALL THE SYMBOLISM!!)
Anyway, I was (clearly) very distraught about “Crossing A Bridge” being cut from the show, but luckily you can hear it on Spotify and you can bet your bottom dollar that when the travel bans are over and I can go to Disneyland Paris, I will be taking a mini-side trip to walk across Pont Alexandre III while listening to the masterpiece that is track 13 on the official soundtrack of Broadway’s Anastasia.
Overall seeing Anastasia in Tucson, Arizona was an awesome experience. It was so fun to share my love for this musical with one of my best friends (and give my family a break!)!
**Please note that the changes, especially regarding the Hartford show, I mention are based on my personal recollections of a performance I saw four years ago. So… they might be a bit flawed haha. This is in no way an exhaustive list of all the ways the show has changed between the three iterations, simply changes I noticed that affected my experience as a viewer (but not necessarily in a positive/ negative manner).
I am so incredibly fortunate to be able to have seen this show as many times as I have and I am so appreciative. I acknowledge my privilege, especially during this time when travel and theatre have been suspended until an unknown future date. I hope that whenever that date comes, you will be able to see the show if that is something you wish to do! I hope I’ll be joining you by adding Vancouver to this list with a 2021 date!
If you are interested in finding out where and when the tour is going after bans on large gatherings are lifted, as well as information about the international shows, please check out: https://anastasiathemusical.com. (I have no affiliation with the cast/ crew/ team behind Anastasia other than being a really obnoxious fan).
Thank you so much for reading this post and I hope you have an awesome day!