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"Anastasia," show #828

Anastasia is perhaps my generation’s most-beloved animated film not produced by Disney. The story concerns Anya, a royal who, separated from her family and suffering from memory loss, thinks herself a commoner. But when Dmitry and Vlad employ her to pretend to be the apparent Duchess Anastasia, her memory and legacy return just in time for her grandmother, the soul surviving member of her family, to have time with her and confirm Anya’s royal status and acceptance to the family throne. The stage adaptation, marvelously handled by director Darko Tresnjak, required a stellar team of creatives (Terrence McNally penned the Book; Ahrens and Flaherty penned the lyrics and composed the music, respectively) to bring this animated delight to stage. Last week, the tour swung through Fresno for a two-night stand, and was received as an excellent production for all ages to enjoy.

Kyla Stone leads the touring company as Anya, and for good reason: she’s absolutely stunning in the role. Her vocals are strong in the lullaby, “Once Upon a December,” and sweeping in the act one finale, “Journey to the Past.” In addition to sweet vocals, Stone delivers a quirky, realistically compatible Anya who audiences can enjoy discovering her layers. Stone’s Anya doesn’t often play into the “damsel-in-distress-becomes-royalty” stereotype, but rather plays the text honestly, infusing her romance opposite Dmitry with slow burn intrigue. Sam McLellan is charismatic enough as the rapscallion Dmitry, but lacks the vocal prowess the score has written for the role, specifically in his underwhelming turn at “My Petersburg.” The tune serves as Dmitry’s exposition song, but also gives Anya, and the audience, a chance to see his motivation for every trick and deed he commits; the song did not live up to this prerequisite. However, McLellan does well opposite Stone and Bryan Seastrom’s Vlad, especially in the upbeat “We’ll Go from There” which establishes the trio’s camaraderie. Seastrom finds his triumphant moments in the better-written Act Two when Vlad is reunited with a long lost love, Countess Lily, played with comedic expertise by Madeline Raube. The duo deliver a thrilling “The Countess and the Common Man,” an expositional delight of lust and takes to the audience. Raube stands on her own in leading the stellar ensemble in her opening tune, “Land of Yesterday.”

Supporting standouts come from Gerri Weagraff as the Dowager Empress, who imbues her Empress with grandmotherly charm in her well-paced quips and affectionate musings; Christian McQueen in his park-and-bark, boomingly-sung “Stay, I Pray You;” and Lauren Teyke as Odette in Swan Lake, a balletic turn that masterly executes Peggy Hickey’s original choreography in graceful fashion. Of the technical successes this tour gives, it’s Linda Cho’s costumes that take the cake. Cho’s eye for character and detail is a trustworthy feast for the audience to see for the entire production. Should Anastasia be coming to a theater near you I encourage you to journey to the venue and see this show!

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