The stage adaptation of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's 1997 animated feature Anastasia, is headed for its premiere May 12-June 12 at Hartford Stage.
Tony Award winning director Darko Tresnjak (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder at Harford Stage and on Broadway), who is artistic director at Harford Stage, has been developing the stage production in collaboration with the writing team for the past two years.
The stage musical incorporates characters not seen in the film. In a March 1 interview with the Journal Inquirer of Connecticut, Tresnjak said "We’ve kept, I think, six songs from the movie, but there are 16 new numbers. We’ve kept the best parts of the animated movie, but it really is a new musical."
He described their process thus: "One of the best moments was that I talked about how the show takes place in St. Petersburg and Paris and bridges figure so prominently in the story in those two cities. Lynn was like, 'Hmm,' and the next morning she showed up with a song called 'Crossing a Bridge.' She heard what I said and didn’t even know she was going to do it, but she came up with lyrics for a song and it’s wonderful and it’s great to be a part of that."
The remaining film songs have been extensively revised and rewritten for the stage.
Although casting has not been announced for the upcoming production, Tresnjak said, "We’re pretty much done with casting." About auditions, he observed, "What’s interesting is a generation of young women grew up singing some of those songs. Especially the Academy Award nominated 'Journey to the Past.' So it was a little bit like auditioning for Scarlett O’Hara. They would come in and some of them couldn’t control their voices. They were so emotional that they got to sing the song in front of the authors."
The stage production has a book by Tony Award winner Terrence McNally (The Visit, Ragtime, Mothers and Sons). Stage Entertainment is shepherding the stage musical from the songwriting team behind Ragtime and Once On This Island. The organization also brought Ahrens and Flaherty's Rocky to Broadway last season.
While no plans for Anastasia have been announced beyond the Hartford run, the Tony-winning musical Gent's Guide also premiered at Hartford as part of its pre-Broadway regional development.
According to Hartford Stage, "Anastasia is the romantic and rousing story of one brave young woman attempting to discover the mystery of her past while finding a place for herself in the rapidly changing world of a new century. With a rich and sweeping musical score that evokes the opulence of Russian aristocracy and the energy of Paris street life, Anastasia is the ultimate journey of a woman caught between the pull of the past and the promise of the future."
The film adaptation featured Meg Ryan voicing Anastasia when she wasn't singing, and Broadway's Liz Callaway (Baby, Miss Saigon) sang the songs. "Journey to the Past" was Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song. The song was also Golden Globe Award-nominated, as was "Once Upon a December."
In addition to the Best Song Academy Award nomination, the picture was Oscar-nominated for Best Music — Original Musical or Comedy Score (naming Ahrens, Flaherty and David Newman).
The stage adaptation was first heard in a June 12, 2015 in a New York City workshop which featured the talents of Elena Shaddow, The Bridges of Madison County actress, and Les Miserables Tony nominee Ramin Karimloo as Gleb Vaganov, a new role created for the stage production.
The workshop cast included Mark Evans as Dmitri, Douglas Sills as Vladimir "Vlad" Vanya Voinitsky Vasilovich, Mary Beth Peil as the Dowager Empress Marie, Joanna Glushak as Lilly (renamed from Sophie in the film) and Benjamin Eakeley as the Tsar. Among the ensemble were Cameron Adams, Sarah Meahl, Emma Pfaeffle, Max Clayton and Ryan Worsing.
No word on whether any of them will be part of the Hartford Stage production.