Anastasia The Musical: My Journey To The Past… and Hartford, Connecticut

One of the first book genres I got really into was historical fiction. I loved the idea of a fictional first-person view on events that actually happened. Of course, knowing that even though this person may not have existed, is was a special kind of magic to pretend that maybe they did… or alternatively to think of all the real people and their stories of experiencing these events. Maybe this is why my favourite movie has always been Titanic. My favourite of all these historical fiction books is Sharon Stewart’s novel, My Anastasia. You know that part in Beauty and the Beast where Belle takes out a book, and the man lets her keep it because she’s read it twice and it’s her favourite? That was me with this book. Starting in grade five I would take it out of our school library over and over (although the librarian never let me keep it), I wrote a book report on it, I still have quotes from it on my quote boards even now. The story followed Dunia, a fictional character who grew close to the Romanov family through Rasputin and eventually becomes extremely close with the Tsar’s youngest daughter, Anastasia.

My obsession with this book in the early 2000’s reminded me of a movie we had. I dug out the VHS of Anastasia, Don Bluth’s 1997 animated film. I watched it for the first time in years and just remember how much it moved me, almost functioning as a continuation of Stewart’s middle-grade/ young adult novel. From that point forward, Anastasia became my favourite animated movie of all time, rivalling Titanic for the number one spot. Out of any movie, I have seen Anastasia more often. During the school year I kept the little portable TV/ VCR we normally took camping, in my closet. I would plug it in and curl up in bed and watch Anastasia over and over. I can still recite the entire movie. My all-time favourite song is the one that plays in the end credits: At The Beginning by Richard Marx and Donna Lewis. Before the days of Spotify and iTunes I used to rewind the end of the video cassette just so I could listen to the song as the credits rolled. I even have the ads from the beginning of the tape memorized. I researched the Romanov family, especially Anastasia and could recall the specific page number in the “A” volume of our encyclopedia set that her article was on, and tried to memorize the passage about the lost Russian princess. I was fascinated. When choosing my confirmation name, I had almost decided on Anastasia but at the last minute changed to Rose as Adrianna Mary-Anne Anastasia is a bit of a mouthful.

Throughout high school, many people knew about my adoration of the Anastasia movie. I had drawn a picture for the cover of my binder in grade ten that featured Anastasia with a quote from the end of the film. One of my classmates, whom I wasn’t particularly close to, came up to me and gave me a replica of the “Together in Paris” necklace. She said she knew how much I loved the movie so she wanted me to have it. I had the soundtrack on all my music players, both the movie versions and studio versions of the songs. My Nexopia profile was Anastasia themed for awhile. When I got to choose a historical figure to do a comparative analysis of their representation in different films, I chose Grigori Rasputin.


My Anastasia themed Nexopia profile circa 2007ish.

Fast forward a few years to post-graduation and Tumblr. By this point I had over 150 Anastasia related pictures saved on my computer, multiple featured around my room, and even a tribute video I made and posted to YouTube (which you can watch HERE). I followed a few blogs on Tumblr that posted content relating to Anastasia, and found out it was announced that a musical based off of the Anastasia movie was in the works. Now, anyone who has been on Tumblr for any length of time knows to take any sort of news with a grain of salt. And I did. Over the next couple years I saw the rumours persist and eventually an official announcement. My knowledge of musicals doesn’t extend very far past school performances, Disney movies, and The Sound of Music but the thought of seeing my favourite animated movie translated to a live musical was literal music to my ears.

Until I found out it was only being shown in Connecticut.

2500 miles from where I live in Vancouver, Canada is one heck of a commute.

So I pushed the idea out of my mind and hoped that the show would possibly tour one day and make its way to my neck of the woods. I’ve gone to Seattle for concerts, maybe that could be a possibility if not Vancouver? I don’t even know if that’s how musicals work. We’re working with minimal musical theatre knowledge here, folks.

When March 2016 rolled around, I was going through a bunch of really tough stuff. I felt that my life had derailed and all the things I’d been looking forward to and was excited about were pulled out from under me all at once. My 25th birthday was approaching and instead of being obnoxiously excited like I usually am, I was dreading it.

I was on my computer and saw news about Anastasia the Musical. Tickets were on sale and the first show was going to be on May 12th, just four days after my birthday. I decided that hey, maybe I would take matters into my own hands. I’d do something crazy and spontaneous and give myself something to look forward to.

I am lucky to be able to say that I am relatively well-travelled. I’ve been to upwards of twenty different U.S. states, which I think is pretty good as a Canadian. However, I didn’t know anything about Connecticut.

Actually, that’s untrue. I knew two things. The first was that The Babysitters Club (as well as Baby-sitters Little Sister) books were set there, the second being that Connecticut is where Gilmore Girls takes place. However, the characters of those series’ live in Stoneybrook and Stars Hollow, respectively, which are both (tragically) fictional locations.

So, really… I knew nothing.

Before the end of the week, I had my flights and hotel booked and had called the theatre (Hartford Stage) to buy tickets for opening night. Tickets ranged based on the location of the seats from $75 to $115 (USD… which makes it quite a bit more in CAD) but student pricing was $20 per ticket.

I have literally never been so excited about something in all my life. Like Kristen Bell with a sloth excited. Stoked, pumped, chuffed, beside myself crying tears of joy and hopeful anticipation… the whole nine yards.

On May 11th we began the trek across the continent. I did a “photo an hour” post that you can check out HERE, if you wish!

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After seven hours in flight, three time zones, and a $45 taxi ride, we arrived at the hotel. Upon checking in the lady at the front desk said that there was a message left for me saying that my dad would call around midnight. I didn’t think anything of it, as I had been texting my mom since we landed in Connecticut. It was midnight for us, and after a long day of travelling we were ready to just flop onto hotel beds and sleep.

After I sent that text, the phone in the hotel rang. I picked it up (and dropped it… yeah, I’m real slick) and it was my mom, and then my dad came on the line with a separate phone.

They asked how I was doing (I was good), if I had a migraine (I didn’t) and if the room was nice (it was).

And then said that the show had been cancelled.

I had flown across North America, done what was probably the biggest and first real spontaneous thing of my life, and been crazy excited for months… and it was cancelled. I had been dealing with a feeling in the back of my mind for the few weeks up to leaving that something like that would happen as it’s a “just my luck” situation. Over the past couple years I had started to joke that my life was like a particularly dramatic season of Desperate Housewives with all the usual plot points of TV dramas. I was disappointed, but to be honest, wasn’t surprised. I think I actually laughed when they told me.

Someone from the theatre had called the house around noon, trying to get ahold of me. By that point we were already on the plane. Not only that, but since we were crossing the border my phone was, and would be for the entire duration of the trip, on airplane mode. We wouldn’t have contact with anyone until getting WiFi in Connecticut. Sure enough, when I checked my email there was one from Hartford Stage.

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Logically, I understood why they did it and it was nice for people to be able to reschedule. But we had tickets to fly home on Friday at 4pm and the next showing of the musical was Friday at 8pm. The lady had told my parents she would talk to the director and see if it would be possible to attend a dress rehearsal instead, and gave them a phone number for me to call the next day.

So, the next morning I called Darryl. She was amazingly kind and helpful and said it would be possible for us to attend the dress rehearsal that was happening in lieu of the scheduled performance. She said that there was a handful of people who came from out of town that would be attending so we would all be together.

I texted my mom, letting her know that all was good and we would get to see the dress rehearsal. We then left the hotel in search of food and to look around Hartford.

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Snapchat location filtered version of the view from our hotel room!

Coming from the west coast of Canada, we didn’t really know what we were in for when visiting Connecticut, specifically Hartford. I mean, other than this is where the Gilmore Friday night dinners were held. But the closest I was going to get to that was watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix in the hotel.

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I was really excited about updating the location widget on my blog!

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Here’s what I learned about Hartford:

  1. It’s really pretty. Every building just looks so fancy and historical and important.
  2. The street layout is VERY confusing. Instead of the grid system I am used to navigating in a city, Hartford is more comparable to a patchwork quilt as the streets follow the landscape’s natural topography (thanks super informative street sign!).
  3. The city’s layout was made in 1635, which is just 20 years after Shakespeare’s death. This fun fact literally made my life and brought out the English Literature nerd in me.
  4. Crosswalks are death traps. Where I live (a suburb of Vancouver) you press the cross walk button and the little man will pop up on the street light to tell you that it’s safe to walk across the big white lines on the street. Pretty basic. When you go downtown Vancouver it gets a little fancier and the crosswalks are automatic without the button, it automatically assumes that there are people crossing every intersection, so when the traffic lights change, the crosswalk symbols automatically do too. Hartford was another story altogether. Some crosswalks were easy to spot, others were hidden. Some had buttons and some did not. Some had the button facing the crosswalk while others had it on the other side of the post so it looked like you were crossing the perpendicular street… but weren’t. Sometimes you’d press the button and no signal lit up. Sometimes you pressed a button and just had to assume the traffic light applied to you. Sometimes the traffic light didn’t apply to you and people started yelling and honking at you for crossing. Other times you played it safe, didn’t cross because no light was implying you could and everyone stared at you like you were an idiot. It was stressful and often this resulted in just blindly running across the street and hoping for the best. We didn’t get hit by any cars so it worked out, I guess.
  5. There are like… no Starbucks. #firstworldproblems
  6. There is no ‘You Are Here’ mug for Hartford or Connecticut. A word of advice: Do not spend several hours criss-crossing the city to the very few Starbucks in search of one. It just doesn’t exist. It cannot be found. You will return to the hotel very irritated and feel very dumb when you Google to see what the assumed mug looks like only to discover one does not exist. Not that this happened to me or anything…..
  7. So. Many. Freaking. Dunkin’ Donuts. We counted sixteen on our walk and I wish I was exaggerating.
  8.  Dunkin’ Donuts is actually really disappointing… it made me SO homesick for Tim Hortons.
  9. Aside from the mass DD takeover, there weren’t very many chain restaurants otherwise. We saw a couple Burger Kings and Subways but otherwise nothing we recognized. The only McDonalds we saw the whole time was in the airport! (Way to fight the American stereotypes, Hartford!)
  10. The bus system is INSANE. It was difficult to track down the different bus stops (again, crazy road system) but I was really impressed by Connecticut transit. It was $3 for a whole day pass! A bus drove past us that said “NEW YORK CITY”… I could have hopped on a city bus and gone to the Big Apple. On a bus. That was just so beyond wild to me.

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I’m sure we looked slightly crazy walking through the streets and stopping so I could take pictures of every building with my phone but everything was just so exciting! I have literally never felt so touristy in my life.

When we returned to the hotel I had a bunch of new iMessages on my phone. My parents had ended up changing our flights to come home on the same flight but just one day later. We were able to book an extra night in the hotel (and got to stay in the same room… a really nice corner one!) and work everything out so that we would be able to see the premier of Anastasia as well as the dress rehearsal and return home on the Saturday instead of the Friday.

I called the box office at the theatre and asked if this would be okay. Our names were on the list for viewing the dress rehearsal and he said it would be totally fine to put our original tickets towards the Friday evening show instead. We were ecstatic… a total bummer turned into an amazing experience of seeing Anastasia the Musical twice at Hartford Stage.

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EDIT: If you would like to read my in depth review of the musical, you can check that out HERE.

Thank you so much to everyone who made this experience so amazing and the best birthday ever. To the cast and crew of Anastasia as well as the staff of Hartford Stage, especially Darryl (I’m so sorry if I’m misspelling her name) for her kindness and patience and for making the dress rehearsal performance possible. Thank you to my baby brother for coming with me… I wouldn’t have wanted to share this experience with anyone other than the kid who jams with me to In The Dark of The Night (with dramatic duets of course) and who would come into my room and sit on the floor to watch Anastasia with me on the tiny TV in my closet. Most of all, thank you to my parents. When I announced that this was my plan for my birthday, they both thought I was insane but ended up surprising me with the airfare and hotel as a birthday present and then made it possible to stay the extra day and see the Friday performance.  As the song goes: “home, love, family”… I’m so thankful to have parents who provide me with those things to the fullest and most incredible capacity. They are my biggest fans and I’m beyond grateful. I love and am thankful for them every day.

Today, June 19th is the final showing of Anastasia at Hartford Stage but it has been confirmed for the 2016/ 2017 season on Broadway. The Broadway cast has not been announced at this point, and there is no news (yet) regarding the show travelling away from the east coast.

For more information you can check out Anastasia on Hartford Stage’s website. You can also follow associated social media accounts @AnastasiaStage on Twitter and @AnastasiaMusical on Instagram for updates, pictures, and general wonderfulness.

Thank you so very much for reading this post! If you have the opportunity to see this production when it comes to Broadway, I wholeheartedly recommend it and would love to hear your thoughts!

I am not affiliated with the musical production of Anastasia or Hartford Stage in any way beyond being a fan. I am not being compensated for my thoughts/ review and everything stated in this post is a reflection of my own personal experience.

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