What do you get when you remix elements of fairy tales and now-classic musicals with Oprah-esque proverbs about self-actualization?
If you said "Anastasia," this critic owes you a Russian blini.
The national tour of the Broadway production of the musical by book writer Terrence McNally, lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty touched down Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
Beautifully designed and impeccably performed, director Darko Tresnjak's production weaves history with myth as it tells of a Romanov royal who survived the slaughter of her family during the Russian Revolution.
Kyla Stone delivers a fabulous performance as the title character, embodying the grand duchess with mystery and magisterial beauty. She soars on her first solo, "In My Dreams," and stays airborne for the whole show.
If Sam McLellan, who plays opposite Stone as romantic interest and con man Dmitry, seems small, it's only by juxtaposition. McLellan is a capable, polished singer who gives his character sweetness and heart as he helps Anastasia, going by the name of commoner Anya, get from St. Petersburg to Paris to reunite with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress (Gerri Weagraff in a sharp, tart performance).
Flaherty and Ahrens, also the team behind "Ragtime," are now musical theater royalty. They create clever, expressive songs where music and lyrics work magic together.
The challenge with "Anastasia," which dawdles in the second act, is that that wit and facility are not carried throughout the show. Parts of the story, and the way those parts are told, lack originality. The yarns of fake Romanovs are legion both in real life, where Anna Anderson (real name Franziska Schanzkowska) became the most famous Anastasia impostor, and in the creative arts by way of plays, films and books.
This particular adaptation, which first bowed on Broadway in 2017, takes elements from so many other narratives. There's the music box, an essential telltale element, that's shared with "The Phantom of the Opera." There are the pretenders and impersonators, like the parents in "Annie" (now up in a splendid production at the Children's Theatre). There are the ghosts.
Of course, "Anastasia" is a gateway musical, as evidenced by the number of youngsters who attended the show on opening night and left beaming. And they have a right to get lost in Linda Cho's opulent costumes, Donald Holder's dramatic lighting and Alexander Dodge's evocative scenography.
Those elements, plus a rapturous ballet, help to make "Anastasia" a crowd-pleaser.
Still, the takeaways include the Oprah-esque bits. When the Dowager Empress asks Anya who she is, the young woman replies that she doesn't really know.
To which the empress responds: "You can't be anyone unless you first recognize yourself."
That's not a hummable tune, but it's still something to remember "Anastasia" by.
'Anastasia the New Broadway Musical'
Who: Composed by Stephen Flaherty with music by Lynn Ahrens and book by Terrence McNally. Directed by Darko Tresnjak.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun. Ends Dec. 19.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $40-$146. 1-800-982-2787.
Protocol: COVID-19 vaccination card or negative COVID-19 test. Mask required.