AN “ANASTASIA” YOU’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER FINDS DESTINY AND LOVE–THE COMPLETE PACKAGE

Hits: 290

MYSTERY-AMBITION- LOVE CONFLICT AGAINST BACKGROUND OF DANGER. IT’S THE TOP. NON-STOP! 

The “Item” Couple: Anya (KATHERINE LINDSLEY) and Dmitry (Coleman Cummings) Reunited? Or Forever Parted? A Timeless Romance that will break your heart–AND HEAL IT AGAIN!

WPCNR ON THE AISLE. Review by John F. Bailey. December 16,2023 UPDATED WITH PRODUCTION NOTES, 2 PM EST, December 17, 2023.

The overflow crowd at White Plains Performing Arts Center  Anastasia  opening last night  got it all:

They see Katherine Lindsley  in her WPPAC debut, as proud Russian girl Anya, suffering from amnesia, during the post Russian revolution in the 1920s..

KATHERINE LINDSLEY, ANYA IN SEARCH OF HER PAST WITH THE GHOSTS OF THE ROMANOVS AT A BALL IN THE WINTER PALACE OF THE CZARS IN ST.PETERSBURG. (Notice how the LED recreation of the Ballroom at The Winter Palace resembles the real ballroom pictured below) All Photos courtesy of White Plains Performing Arts Center, by Adam Honore,Lighting Designer

She delivers the classic Russian woman, perfectly made up with high cheekbones sensitive expressive eyes that go from blazing ire, to downcast sensitivity, to melting you with devotion. And she’s a belter. Her portrayal last night evokes the loyalty and sensitivity of  the fictional Sonya, the heroine of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s  Crime and Punishment.

Sweeping streets in Moscow, she is singled out by  enterprising entrepreneur Dmitry (Coleman Cummings)  and an aristocrat, Vlad who have hit on a scheme to support themselves by  finding a girl to train to impersonate the missing Anastasia. The “con” here is to win acceptance by the expatriate Dowager Empress (Patricia M. Lawrence) living in exile in Paris– that the bogus Anastasia is her surviving granddaughter. But is Anya just acting, or is she the real Anastasia?

The real Winter Palace in St. Petersburg Russia. 2015. (Photo, WPCNR)

We learn their deep relationship in the touching duet between Ms. Lawrence and Tala Simon (Little Anastasia) in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg Russia in the  opening ballad Once Upon a December. Grace Adeline Flynn alternates with Ms. Simon over the next 14 performances.

The actual ballroom in The Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, 2015 (Photo by WPCNR)

The pompous aloofness of the Romanov family is highlighted by  the first of many dance numbers, the Last Dance of the Romanovs when during the ball a series of flashbacks demonstrates the Bolshevik fatal attack on the Romanovs.

Meanwhile, the impersonation is not going right for the two conspirators, but when they spot Ms.Lindsley’s charisma even with a broom fighting off a mob of attackers – they try her out.  As she shows them her natural royal manner, they think, maybe she’s the one Dmitri (Coleman Cummings) say’s “she’s a natural,” (and she is!)

In the delightful training, her mentors and Ms. Lindsley sing Learn to Do it. During the training, Cummings  and Lindsley’s  growing infatuation is a titillating promise of romance.

Gleb (Drew Becker), the soldier pursuing Anya  sings one of the signature songs of the show The Neva Flows. It sets the tone of this fiery dangerous romance with electricity between Lindsley and Cummings.

Why dangerous? The relentless Bolshevik, Gleb is after them!

The Bolshevik regime under the  ruthless rule  of the Bolshevik Secret Police head, Gleb (played with menace and agonized conflicted passion  by Becker) is searching for imposters pretending to be the Grand Dutchess Anastasia Nikolaenvna Romanov, thought to be still alive.

Gleb warns Anya repeatedly her involvement in being rumored  to be the lost Anastasia is dangerous for her. Gleb, though is  falling in love with her himself. Ahh, the torture of forbidden love. The suspense mounts. Gleb’s duty conflicts with his passion.

The three Dmitri, Vlad and Anya are forced to flee for Poland to escape the Secret Police.

Then the Set Design team of Christopher and Justin Swader pulls out the stops! They seamlessly, spectacularly throw and thrill you with mood lighting, LED moving pictures evoking place and time all too real and moving. You the viewer are drawn into the show with rapt attention!

The double edge sword of romance, deception, guilt and the pursuit, convinces Anya, Vlad and  Dmitry to flee the authorities. Using a series of  moving landscapes  on an LED screen,the halls and vaulted arches  of the old Winter Palace portray and give  the audience a feel for the magnificence  the distant past in search of a memory of  old Russia that has never been forgotten by Russians today.

The fleeing trio board a  train and and take flight to the border thanks to the LED moving visuals, the train rolls down  the tracks through the autumn Russian countryside– the rail car even turns when tracks meet a curve.  It’s wizardry LED  state of the art in context!

The three on the run  are about to be apprehended they jump off the train.  An outstanding special effect! Trooping across country they eventually reach Paris and the Eiffel tower looms up.

Anya delivers a marvelous solo at the close of act one— in her tremulous sympathetic and compelling contralto, Journey to the Past

ACT TWO   opens with more special effects by pictures and moving landscapes on the projection screen as the people of 1927 Paris promenade along.

Anya meets the Dowager Empress and how does that turn out?  I cannot spoil this ending for you. Patricia M. Lawrence as the Dowager Empress provides a touch of superior royalty and humor and her interaction with Ms. Lindsley in two different scenes at the finale is the key to selling this fantastic tale.

Ms. Lindsley gave this part all she had. She delivered the goods the greats-to-be have to deliver:  the emotions of a young woman the confidence and courage singing lyrics plaintive, hurt, pleading, melancholy, righteous, touching your heart  because she’s feeling it. She carries it, ladies and gentlemen!

The audience sees the splendor of Paris. The audience sees watching the  very theater they are watching this show in majestically  turn into the Paris Ballet complete with balconies and a performance of Swan Lake (truncated but perfect–it got an ovation!)

A Russian émigré’ hangout brings Count Vlad together with Countess Lily, an old flame  of his, (now the Dowager Empress’s companion). The Vlad-Lily  attraction is aflame again  (after a frenetic dance number featuring 1927 dances is a smash and very amusing). Vlad(John Treacy Egan)) and Countess Lily (Caroline Huerta) carry off coy romantic commingling and nail it coquettishly coy~tasteful!

Meanwhile as Anya attends the Paris Ballet she is target of the relentless Gleb. (The atmosphere recalls that of The Fugitive.

Vlad (John Treacy  Egan) center at a news conference with Countess Lily, as Anya who has been confirmed by the Dowager Empress as being the missing Anastasia.

Is Anya the real Anastasia? What will happen or will Gleb her pursuer from the Secret Police eliminate her? Audience is on edge with tense suspense.

The Dowager Empress holds the key. In fact Patricia M.Lawrence with her dead solid perfect calm manner with Anya “sells” the ending of this show.  Both Ms. Lindsley as Anna and Ms. Lawrence interactions are dramatically effective  leaving  the audience spellbound at the end of this cliffhanger of emotions, uneasy to the end.

A hint: keep your eye on the music box.

Post Production Notes from John Bailey.

This show was directed by Frank Portanova, a veteran director who has directed 8 WPPAC directions and is also theater mentor at Stepinac High School. He has the distinction of directing what I feel, though I have not seen all the WPPAC shows, is the most demanding, effective, and creative production I have seen there. The cast pulled this complex ambitious performance off in just two weeks as Mr. Portanova mixed the state off art of tech with a talented professional cast and created an appropriate success worthy of  celebrating the 20th anniversary of the White Plains Performing Arts Center.

And a word about LED–

–The use of LED in Anastasia, creates a context for the production that is better and the best I have seen.

It is another compelling actor in this cast.

The designers using the giant LED wrap around screen, seamlessly fits the LED context of place and feeling into the to the sky,  towering side sets of multi role arches and towers to the sky , and by doing so, have masterfully given a new role for LED screen in entertainment, it is part of the ensemble.

LED  in Anastasia, instead of being just “holy cow-what an effect wowcandy” for the audience,  has created a new role, advancing to seamless creativity and interaction with the actors,  by the set designers and the LED master–Brad Patterson, Video Designer of this breakthrough WPPAC production

The WPPAC is  not just now Westchester’s theatre!

It’s the theatre of the future–a writer’s extra member of the cast because LED in this production of Anastasia gives creators LED as a new creative tool to reach out and grab the audience’s imagination and perception with more real feeling.

You’re in the Czar’s palace, You’re on a train to freedom. You’re in Paris.

Creators of plays and musicals should see this and write LED that “acts” into their shows.

I do not know how actors feel about this, but if your senses feel the magnificence of The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, if you and your lead actor feel you’re walking in Paris. You’re in Paris. What a high the LED effects must have brought to the actors in this show. The perspectives the LED gives the audience and the actors gave the impression the proscenium had been rebuilt and expanded.

The actors gave it all they had. It was them and the LED magic creating new theatre magic. 

Anastasia will have 13 more performances. Go see it. 

Is a Hit, mon! Go to www.wppac.com for dates and times.

The grand entry grounds of The Winter Palace, Home to Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Czar Nicholas I, as it looked when I visited it in 2015. The production of Anastasia recalls the heritage and heartbreak of the Russia of memory. (Photo by WPCNR, 2015)

Comments are closed.