#WestEndWishList Anastasia The Musical
| By Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels
(Updated on Apr 30, 2019)
Journey to the fabricated past. Many are familiar with the worldwide phenomenon that was, and still is, Anastasia. Even after DNA findings in 1991 began to hint that the Russian Grand Duchess did not actually evade regicidal execution by the Bolsheviks, the world still romanticised her escape and the 1997 film transformed the legend into a modern fairytale. Even Russians who were well aware of the film’s many historical inaccuracies found the film to be nothing short of spectacular, complete with masterful storytelling and engaging Walt Disney-esque songs. The Fox Studios film was, in fact, one of the first non-Disney films to use the 'Disney formula' and challenge Walt Disney Studios (the film was later acquired by Disney anyway) and now, the fantastical story has received the full Broadway treatment! Anastasia currently runs on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre and many West End theatre fans are dying to see HRH in London! As part of our #WestEndWishList series, we are bringing you everything you need to know about Anastasia, both in real life and in fiction.
The real Anastasia v.s. Hollywood Anastasia
Everyone knows that Hollywood has the tendency to alter true events in order to make a story more interesting and 1997’s Anastasia was no different. Directed and produced by former Walt Disney directors Don Bluth and Gary Oldman, the film was indeed about the Russian Grand Duchess, Anastasia Nikolaevna, and much like in real life, Anastasia is rumoured in the film to be alive and well, having managed to survive the tragic events that befell her family. Her grandmother, Dagmar of Denmark Maria Feodorovna, really did survive the February Revolution and moved to London, whereas in the film, she had moved to Paris. Anastasia’s real-life babushka desperately wanted to believe there were survivors, much like in the film, and several imposters falsely claimed to be the long-lost royal duchess.
Anna Anderson, who was later revealed to be a Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska suffering from a mental illness, was the best-known Anastasia imposter in history whose notoriety helped keep this modern-day fairytale alive for decades as Anastasia’s body remained to be found for years. In an ode to Anna Anderson, the film even sees the grandmother say to Anastasia, “You’re a very good actress, best yet in fact. But I’ve had enough.” DNA testing on several bodies exhumed in 1991 confirmed that three of the sisters had indeed been executed by the Bolsheviks and in 2007, the fourth sister was found, and the legend was finally put to rest once the DNA matched with that of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip.
Broadway’s Anastasia somewhat more realistic
The Broadway musical takes a step back from the supernatural elements found in the film and has replaced the Russian mystic, Rasputin, with a Bolshevik general named Gleb Vaganov, who is ordered to kill Anastasia. Unfortunately, this means that the fan-favourite song ‘In the Dark of the Night,’ in which Rasputin sings of his plans to kill Anastasia, has been cut from the show. Many remember the song for being similar to the grandeur of Scar’s ‘Be Prepared’ in The Lion King in which Rasputin’s hellish minions mirror Scar's dancing hyenas. (Side Note: Why do Disney villains always seem to get the best songs?) Rasputin’s albino bat sidekick named Bartok who, in terms of comedic relief, bore a striking resemblance to Jafar’s wisecracking parrot Iago in Aladdin, has also been omitted from the musical.
What else is new or different in the Anastasia musical?
Broadway’s Anastasia only retains 5 songs from the film, including ‘Once Upon A December,’ ‘Journey to the Past,’ ‘Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart),’ ‘Meant to Be’ and ‘Learn To Do It.’ It also adds an additional 16 brand-new numbers and combined with a 2-and-a-half-hour runtime, audiences are in for almost an entirely new experience. In contrast to Rasputin, the new villain Gleb appears to have a soft side – in the first act, he is given a ballad (‘Still’) in which he sings about having to choose between his love for Anastasia and fulfilling his orders to assassinate her. The musical combines elements of the 1956 film as well, and with its many new characters not found in either the 1956 and 1997 films, the Broadway musical will feel fresh to die-hard Anastasia fans.
So when will Anastasia get her 'exit visa' from Broadway for a London premiere? Hopefully, soon, so long as Disney's Frozen doesn't beat her to the punch!
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Don't forget to read our last #WestEndWishList blog piece on The Cher Show.