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Musical Review: Anastasia & the journey back to Calgary

By Ramiro Bustamante Torres, March 3 2023

There are few performances I would wait for after being rescheduled, for example, a Fleetwood Mac concert that got moved twice before I got to see them. This was one of them and I would say the wait was worth it. Broadway Across Canada’s opening night of Anastasia was on Feb. 28 at the Southern Jubilee Auditorium. It was a highly anticipated performance which had the audience laughing and crying through the story of the lost Russian princess. 

From film to stage, the adaptation was both faithful and original. Most of the plot from the original film was kept intact along with favourite songs such as “Once Upon A December” and “Journey to the Past” albeit they were put in a different order. The major change was the removal of the main antagonist Rasputin and his henchman, Bartok, to be replaced with General Gleb Vaganov, a member of the Bolshevik party. This moved the backdrop of Soviet Russia to the forefront of the musical as the Bolshevik party was more present. Hearing about this before watching the show felt like it would take away from it, but I was impressed with the character and how he added to the story. While all the magical elements from the beloved film were removed, there was some magic that remained with the performances.

Starting with the titular character, Anya was played by Veronica Stern. This role was originally played by Kyla Stone, but Stern had taken the lead in August 2022. Stern had shown talent and strength in her vocals, much so that the role almost didn’t fit her. During the first half of the performance, her range and the melody didn’t seem to agree as she would go for height but not warmth. However, in the second act, Stern warmed up to her role and settled well into Anya’s melodies. 

For the role of Dmitry, William Butler was switched out for Zachary Bigelow for the opening night show. Bigelow was suitable for the role but did not stand out as Dmitry except during solo moments such as in “My Petersburg.” With other role changes of the night, the parts for Vlad (Billy McGavin) and Countess Lily (Kaitlyn Jackson) — a character replacing the cousin of the Dowager Empress, Sophie, and instead acts as her handmaiden in Paris — were two that stood out. During the musical numbers of “Land of Yesterday” and “The Countess and the Common Man,” McGavin and Jackson captured the audiences’ hearts with impressive vocal control in a quintessential musical style sequence along with perfectly executed comedic moments. 

The inclusion of Gleb into the storyline was new but brought an interesting perspective and voice to the Bolsheviks at the time. For the role of Gleb, Chrisitan McQueen was the performer and personally one of my favourites of the night. Compared to the original cast recordings, McQueen brought a lot more emotion to the character. On stage, his presence could not be missed and his voice was perfect for the role, almost outshining his fellow cast members. The songs “The Neva Flows” and “Still” along with their reprise have been an excellent addition and were performed marvellously. 

Other notable songs that were a treat to watch performed live were “Stay, I Pray You,” which I believe would speak to many immigrants listening to it, and “Quartet at the Ballet,” a quartet of hopes and fears layered on top of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet with melodies mimicking “Once Upon a December.” In the latter, the performance itself was truly spectacular to watch. The staging and costuming added much to the musical experience with few drawbacks, such as the strong strobe light used for certain scenes that in theory was a good choice but practically it was annoying. 

Broadway Across Canada will be performing Anastasia from Feb. 28 to March 5 in Calgary, moving next to Vancouver. As a long-time fan of the film and now a fan of the musical, this was an experience I would do again. For more information on the show, visit Broadway Across Canada’s website here.

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