Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna was certainly well-named—Anastasia means “resurrection,” and she may be the most resurrected individual of the 20th century. Her life really ended on July 17, 1918, when members of the Bolshevik secret police killed Tsar Nicholas II’s whole family, effectively ending Imperial Russia. But after a few years, rumors surfaced that Anastasia had survived the massacre and traveled to Paris to convince her wary grandmother of her identity.
Such is the stuff of which plays, Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar-winning comeback vehicle, an animated musical, and now a Broadway show—currently in previews and opening April 24 at the Broadhurst—are made.
Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, who wrote the Oscar-nominated score for the 1997 animated feature and added over a dozen more to its stage incarnation, don’t view the story’s current incarnation as a twice-told tale but more as an original, thanks to Terrence McNally’s transformative book. (The trio previously won Tonys together for Ragtime.)
“It’s all very new and, at the same time, somewhat familiar because the legend of this girl has been around for a hundred years,” says Ahrens. “But I think we’ve brought a whole new energy and depth to it.”
Flaherty agrees. “We wanted to give the show its own identity, and, to do that, we knew that we needed a playwright. So Terrence immediately came to mind.”
There’s markedly more historical accuracy in his account, though McNally fortifies his story with a fictional love triangle. “We needed to get some tension in the show, so we got another guy,” says McNally, “a dedicated Cheka Soviet officer whose job is [to] make sure she’s not Anastasia, but he’s also attracted to this woman. He’d like her to stop this fantasy and go out on a date.” This time around, Christy Altomare is the possible Anastasia, Derek Klena is her confidante, and Ramin Karimloo the upright Soviet officer.
Ahrens and Flaherty always looked on their film as unfinished business and longed for another crack at the legend. That chance presented itself when Tony-winning director Darko Tresnjak directed a lift-off at Hartford Stage.
“It’s a radically different retelling,” Flaherty says. “We didn’t want to do our film onstage. We wanted to do a new version that is more historically and emotionally truthful.”