Front Row Reviewers

Jun 3, 2024 | Musical

Anastasia: The Musical: A Tuacahn Triumph Fit for Royalty!

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

By Val O’Bryan; Front Row Reviewers

Don’t let the idea of Southern Utah heat scare you away from Tuacahn Amphitheatre this summer. Tuacahn is more than just a venue; it’s a destination that celebrates the harmony of nature and the performing arts, making every visit an unforgettable adventure. You will want to make seeing Anastasia: The Musical one of your summer bucket list items!

Nestled in St. George, Utah’s stunning red rock canyons, Tuacahn Amphitheatre offers an unparalleled theater experience that blends natural beauty with artistic excellence. This outdoor theater boasts state-of-the-art production capabilities, allowing for breathtaking special effects and immersive performances under the vast, star-studded summer sky. The theater’s unique setting enhances the storytelling of director Sarah Hartmann, creating a magical atmosphere where audiences can enjoy Broadway-caliber shows amidst the serene backdrop of the Utah desert. 

The set pieces for Anastasia are nothing short of spectacular; perfectly capturing the opulent grandeur of the Russian Empire and the romantic allure of 1920s Paris. Each scene transitions seamlessly with intricate, meticulously designed backdrops and props that transport the audience through time and place. Scenic Designer Clayton Domback decorates the stage with sweeping archways, which is perfect to emulate the historic Romanov palaces. Along with video projections designed by video designer Aaron Rhyne, the set changes location and season as the audience joins Anastasia on her journey to reconnect with her roots.

The show opens with a doting grandmother, Suzanna Guzmán (the Dowager Empress), giving a parting gift of a music box to her beloved grandchild, Bently Nuila, Jordyn Schurtz, Lena White (Anastasia), as she moves to Paris. A transition marks the passing of time to 1917, and we see the family of Jonah Ho’okano (Tsar Nicholas II) and Kayleigh Capaldi (Tsarina Alexandra) dressed in royal attire and dancing at a ball.

Costume designer Ricky Lurie‘s ball gowns are a visual feast, exuding exquisite detail and elegance while serving a crucial role in distinguishing the characters onstage. From the regal presence of Tsarina Alexandra to the youthful innocence of Young Anastasia, each costume is meticulously crafted to ensure clarity for the audience.

Young Anastasia, portrayed by the radiant Madysen Piper, is adorned in a delicate pale pink, a deliberate choice to set her apart from her older sisters, brilliantly portrayed by Victoria Madden, Camila Rodrigues, and Sareen Tchekmedyian. This thoughtful attention to costume design enhances the production’s visual splendor and contributes to a deeper understanding of the characters and their roles within the story. Audience members familiar with the 1997 20th Century Fox Animation film Anastasia or the Russian Revolution of 1917 will anticipate the palace invasion and capture of the members of the Romanov family. 

As time marches on to 1927, the audience is introduced to Joe Caskey (Gleb), a general in the Bolshevik army and a poverty-stricken St. Petersburg that has been renamed Leningrad. At an imposing six-foot three inches, Caskey is the perfect complicated villain, whose rich baritone voice can be warm and then become threatening in an instant. The addition of General Gleb Vaganov is a departure from the well-known animated film that included the sorcerer Rasputin as the antagonist. The presence of General Gleb helps to emphasize the animosity between the Bolsheviks and the royal family and ties the story to historical perspectives. A young street sweeper named Kelsey Lee Smith (Anya) catches Gleb’s eye, and the audience can tell he is transfixed.

A mysterious rumor is circulating St. Petersburg that the youngest royal daughter may have escaped the palace destruction and could still be alive. The Dowager Empress is offering a reward in hopes of reuniting with her beloved grandchild, catching the interest of con artists James Everts (Dmitry) and Peter Surace (Vlad). The two opportunists hold auditions for a convincing actress that they can train to be Anastasia and collect the reward money. Anya initially approaches Dmitry and Vlad to secure paperwork to travel to Paris. When the two men realize Anya has amnesia and can’t remember her past, they decide she is the perfect Anastasia for their crime. 

Smith brings a natural elegance and physical grace to the role. Her character, Anya, is easily “taught” by Dmitry and Vlad because they are giving her a chance to remember who she is, as opposed to training her to act like royalty. As she goes through the motions, her memories come back, and it is clear that she is remembering details that they never taught her. Smith’s dynamic voice brings great emotional depth to her performance as she transforms into the grand duchess.

The visual transition between Russia and France is striking, and the contrast between the two countries is stark. The ensemble (Lance Barker, William Bishop, Ashley Bruce, Cayleigh Capaldi, Carly Haig, Thom Henke, Jonah Ho’okano, Kaitlyn Jackson, Randal Keith, Kyle Kemph, Adam Kozlowski, Jeffrey Landman, Victoria Madden, Mallorie Mendoza, Justin O’Brien, Camila Rodrigues, Taylor Stanger, Preston Taylor, Sareen Tchekmedyian, Darian Troy, Reese Wheeler, Scott Whipple, Daisy Wright) plays a critical role in illustrating this contrast. From suitors to soldiers and ghosts to Parisians, the ensemble members’ costuming and choreography reflect the distinct aesthetics of the different settings. The train ride sequence is a stroke of creative genius, seamlessly integrating with Anya’s transformation into Anastasia while engaging the audience in her emotional journey. Upon their arrival in Paris, Vlad reconnects with an old flame, Countess Lily, portrayed with delightful charm by Madeline Raube. As the closest confidant to the Dowager Empress, Raube’s Countess Lily commands the stage with a perfect balance of seriousness and poise, yet her portrayal of a love-drunk flirt steals the show. Raube and Surace, as Lily and Vlad, share a natural and playful chemistry, their comedic timing leaving the audience in stitches! Simultaneously, the budding romance between Anya and Dmitry unfolds, each moment filled with palpable emotion as they navigate their feelings for each other.

Two aspects contributing to the production’s elegance are the live orchestra accompaniment, directed by Daniel Mollett, and the enchanting ballet performance by choreographer Bill Burns. The live music, executed with precision and emotion, enriches every scene, while the condensed rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is breathtaking. Sareen Tchekmedyian‘s portrayal of Odette is both striking and mesmerizing, capturing the essence of the character with grace and depth. Taylor Stanger as Prince Siegfried and Lance Barker as Von Rothbart deliver expressive performances, fully embodying their roles in their limited time on stage. The ballet serves as a poignant parallel to Anya’s personal transformation journey, while also paying homage to the rich cultural heritage of Russia.

Tuacahn’s Anastasia: The Musical is a breathtaking journey of discovery, identity, and hope that enchants from the first note to the last. The stellar performances, captivating choreography, and stunning set pieces transport the audience from the grandeur of Imperial Russia to the bohemian allure of 1920s Paris. With a story that tugs at the heartstrings and musical numbers that leave you humming long after the curtain falls, Anastasia is a theatrical experience not to be missed. Whether you’re a long-time fan of the legend or new to the tale, this production promises to leave you spellbound and inspired. Brave the heat (there is plenty of water!) and witness this enchanting story unfold on stage – it’s a journey worth taking.

Tuacahn Center for the Arts presents Anastasia: The Musical music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and book by Terrence McNally
Tuacahn Amphitheater, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins, Utah 84738
June – October 18, 2024, Performance dates and times vary
Tickets: $35-$132
Contact: 800-746-9882
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