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Concert Reviews:
"Anastasia" is a crowning close for Fisher Theatre season
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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The idea of a frothy, family-friendly musical is put to the test in "Anastasia," when the title character and her family are all murdered within 15 minutes of the curtain going up.



Or are they? "Anastasia," of course, is the stage adaptation of the hit 1997 animated film about the legend that one of Russia's Romanov duchesses survived the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, escaped the country and began a new family line that's even spawned a hit Amazon Video series. Like its predecessor the Tony Award-nominated musical -- at Detroit's Fisher Theatre through June 23 -- plays on the mystery of "Is she or isn't she?," and with plenty of Disney-esque fun, and heart, across its two acts.



"Anastasia" is, at its core, a princess story, with a little bit of "Pygmalion" thrown in. Anya (a powerhouse Lila Coogan) is a Leningrad street sweeper recovering from amnesia, co-opted by rogues Dimitry (played with "Aladdin" earnestness by Stephen Brower) and Vlad Popov (a broadly comedic Edward Stauden Mayer) to play the part of Anastasia in an attempt to scam reward money from the Dowager Empress living in Paris.



There are plenty of directions the story can take, and "Anastasia" nimbly balances an all-ages effervescence with just enough provocative psycho-drama to insure it's not just a cartoon taken to the stage. The hardships of the post-revolution Soviet Empire are displayed in both script and song ("A Rumor in St. Petersburg"), along with the conflicted existence of Russia's bourgeois exiles in Paris ("Land of Yesterday"). Anya's own struggle with discovering her real identity is addressed throughout the show, particularly in choreographed flashbacks, giving the productions some welcome emotional gravity.



And Jason Michael Evans captures the conflicted Gleb Vaganov, son of a Romanov palace guard who helped kill the family but has feelings for Anya that compromise his duty to pursue her and her claim.



All of this is handsomely staged, using inventive rear-stage projections to make the scenes pop with rich visual depth. "Anastasia's" "Traveling Sequence" is especially winning, the screens depicting motion as cast members sing on a rotating train car at center stage. And the technique conveys the grandeur of palaces and Paris without many moving parts.



Coogan, as Anya, drives the show from her initial smiling, princessy appearance; She nails her first big number, "In My Dreams," with room-shaking gusto and delivers the same throughout the rest of the show. Her tight chemistry with Brower also makes for a convincing and at times complicated relationship between Anya and Dimitry. But "Anastasia's" real scene stealers are Mayer and Tari Kelly as ex-flame Countess Lily and their performance of "The Countess and the Common Man," a just-racy-enough slapstick gem that showcases their chemistry and shared comedic chops.



In that regard "Anastasia" makes you laugh and, if not cry, at least feel a little warmer in the heart. And whether or not Anya is really the Grand Duchess Anastasia doesn't really matter; On stage she's a convincing queen to her audience, with an equally appealing "court" surrounding her.



"Anastasia" runs through June 23 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are $39 and up. A limited number of $25 tickets for each show are available via lottery at anastasiathemusical.com. Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.



Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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