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Anya, played byLila Coogan, and the company of the National Tour of "Anastasia" perform the scene from the song "Once Upon a December." Photo by Evan Zimmerman

'Anastasia' comes to life on Broadway

Friday, February 8, 2019

For many of us, our fascination with Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov began with movies, either the 1956 classic starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brenner, or the enchanting animated musical of 1997. Each movie weaves a tale of mystery and magic surrounding the young princess, who may or may not have survived the assassination plot that destroyed the rest of her family.

Most of us have a vague recollection of the conspiracies borne from the events that followed the assassination of the Russian royal family, dusty memories of civil war and betrayal, the incomparable opulence of the Romanov dynasty, and an enigmatic young woman incapable of recalling her past. 

This is the stuff of childhood dress-up fantasies, the kind of story that sent kids crawling through their grandparents’ attics, dragging out every piece of costume jewelry, every fancy hat or lacy shawl, in order to replay the role of the lost Anastasia trying to find her way home. Even if that home no longer exists.

Now comes the dazzling stage play of “Anastasia” to further bring those daydreams to life. 

From the Tony Award-winning creators of the Broadway classic “Ragtime,” “Anastasia” transports audiences from the twilight of the Russian empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of Dmitri, a scrappy conman and dashing ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an adventure to help her find home, love and family.

“You see Anya go through this incredible journey,” said Stephen Brower, who plays Dmitri in the Broadway Across America tour.

According to Brower, it’s the strength of Anya’s character that truly moves the story, elevating it from what might otherwise be relegated to a generic princess tale. 

“We all go through our own version of the journey with her,” he said. “The men in the story are so affected by her. She really gets the story going.” 

Brower, who graduated from the Texas State University theater program in 2015, understands the importance of the journey in learning one’s identity. According to Brower, knowing yourself allows an artist to set the highest standard of quality and integrity for a performance.

“I’m a fan of the struggle,” Brower said. “In this business [of performing], you can start asking a lot of questions about yourself, why you’re doing this, who you are.” 

In this way, Brower connects with Dmitri as he joins the young and self-reliant Anya in her struggle to establish her identity and restore her place in the world. Brower attributes his ability to focus the role of Dmitri to his experiences at Texas State, which he also says gave him a toolbox of skills to help navigate the realities of the acting world.

“In high school, theater life sounds so glamorous,” Brower said. “Enjoying the process helps you see beyond the monotonous daily reality of it. Texas State gave me the ability to know myself as an artist.” 

This deeper understanding of the artist’s process provides firm bedrock to the story of “Anastasia,” which is layered with intrigue, self-doubt and questions of identity. In that way, the characters adopt various masks and costumes throughout the course of the show, in an effort to protect themselves while learning the truth of who they are. 

As a performer, though, when asked to choose his favorite part of “Anastasia,” Brower named the music. Though the play features five songs from the 1997 movie, the Broadway musical brings original pieces written by the same songwriting team as the animated release.

 “The music is so epic and exciting,” Brower said. “It’s amazing how music alone can make you feel all of these things.”

Add to the music, lavish set and costume designs that emulate the late Russian Empire and Golden Age of Paris, and Broadway In Austin brings a show worthy of childhood nostalgia made real. 

Anastasia will begin its run at Bass Concert Hall Tuesday, Feb. 12, and will continue through Sunday, Feb. 17. Showtimes are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are available at  Broadway in Austin, Texas Performing Arts, the Bass Concert Hall ticket office, all Texas Box Office Outlets and by phone at 512-477-6060.