Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
In a season crowded with what have turned out to be so many disappointing Broadway shows rushing to make the Tony Award deadline (April 27), Anastasia rises above the fray. Here is an old fashioned (that’s a compliment) book musical with a ravishing score, expressive, illuminating lyrics, significant talent, remarkable visuals, war, deception, and love.
The Cinderella story, for those of you unfamiliar with Anatole Litvak’s 1956 film or the Disney cartoon, revolves around what might’ve happened had Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II, escaped the murder of her family by Bolshevik secret police in 1918. There were, in fact, rumors of survival and young women who declared themselves to be the princess.
Nicole Scimeca, Mary Beth Peil
Ostensibly caught in an explosion, our heroine (Christy Altomare), is an amnesiac called Anya by the hospital in which she was treated. The girl is scraping by as a street cleaner in poverty-stricken St. Petersburg: A city on the rise/It’s really very friendly/If you don’t mind spies…She remembers only someone’s promise to meet in Paris, where all will be well. We’ve seen that covenant made by her grandmother, the Dowager Empress (Mary Beth Peil) who inadvertently decamped to the French capital in time to escape joining her family in death. A Faberge music box is given little Anastasia (the superb Nicole Scimeca).
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna
Anya is conscripted by con men Dmitry (Derek Klena, a young audience heartthrob with an excellent tenor, though less presence than he might have) and Vlad (John Bolton – a fine comic actor in the vein of Billy De Wolfe) to masquerade as Anastasia in order to collect a sizeable reward 0ffered by the Dowager. Vlad was once a palace insider and provides fount of information. Lyric details add historical interest. Hesitant about the dishonesty, Anya reconciles it as a way to get to France and then begins to believe the possibility.
Every now and then during tutoring, the girl finds she knows something she shouldn’t – like French. These windows of recollection, skillfully woven through the book, are dismissed by Dmitry and Vlad as imagination. A scene at the last palace ball Anastasia attended is evocatively recreated with projected spectres joining dancers on stage and balconies.
Ramin Karimloo, Christy Altomare
Meanwhile, Anya is noticed by Gleb (Ramin Karimloo) a regimental official so taken with her that despite staunch commitment to the authoritarian state, he lets the girl go even after hearing of the plot in which she’s involved. Anya, Vlad and Dmitry make it to Paris backed by a surprising resource. (Oh, the ingeniously imagined train ride!)
Gleb follows, instructed to kill the girl if she turns out to be Anastasia. His father was one of the soldiers who killed the Tsar’s family. Will he be able to finish the job? Also in the balance is Dmitry’s romance with the young woman he must give up should her identity be proven.
Vlad hopes to get to the Dowager Empress through her lady in waiting, Countess Lily with whom he was once romantically entangled. (Caroline O’Connor – imagine a more attractive Martha Raye.) A charming push/pull number with Lily and Vlad (O’Connor and Bolton make farce delicious) recalls early Hollywood musicals as does a number in The Neva Club peopled by white Russian exiles. Outcome rests with hopeful, frightened Anya and Anastasia’s disillusioned grandmother – no, her Nana. “You can’t be anyone unless you first recognize yourself.”
John Bolton, Caroline O’Connor and the Company
Fellow journalists have objected to sidelining the royal family’s deaths/turbulent Russian politics. I disagree. The event is unmistakable. Poverty and government shifts are not the point. Enough is evoked to give context to the situation. This is not an opera.
In fact, Anastasia might be considered a primer for well conceived musicals. Numbers organically elaborate on dialogue. Comic relief appears after quiet intensity. Past and present occupy the stage with cohesive luster. Even aware of the conclusion, we willingly, appreciatively succumb.
Songs like the music box’s “Once Upon a December,” “Journey to The Past”: Heart, don’t fail me now!/Courage, don’t desert me!/Don’t turn back now that we’re here… and “Crossing a Bridge” may be familiar, but empathetic emotion feels fresh. Several solos by Gleb are as edifying as they are musically powerful and “Still” by the Dowager Empress is heart wrenching. At least two vocal arrangements play conspirators’ themes against one another with consummate skill. (There’s no analysis in the moment, just intoxication.)
John Bolton, Christy Altomare, Derek Klena in the box
In her Broadway debut, Christy Altomare is grave and radiant. We’re with her every step of the way. Warm vocals wonder and soar. Memory fragments emerge credibly abrupt. Doubt feels sincere. An artist to watch.
Mary Beth Peil is stunning. Every inch the Dowager Empress, the actress embodies magisterial grace. She exudes love for Anastasia, bone deep suffering of loss – her vocals tear at one, galvanizing expectation, and weary joy. A masterful turn.
Ramin Karmiloo (Gelb) is a leading man to his toes. Stage presence is unconditional, his muscular, expansive voice hypnotic. Karmiloo shows us the nuance of Gelb’s conflicting feelings while maintaining a habitually rigid outer demeanor.
Christy Altomare, Derek Klena
Director Darko Tresnjak, like four other members of the show’s creative team, was responsible for the gleefully high-wattage A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Tresnjak adroitly handles the Dowager Countess’s delicate goodbye to little Anastasia and small, telling gestures – like Gelb’s dismissal of his subordinates, as well as he manifests murder, revolution, and nightclub frivolity. Visual tableaux are always pleasing.
Choreographer Peggy Hickey melds Broadway hoofing with 1920s Charleston, gives us a comic tango with panache, and engineers shimmering waltzes.
Alexander Hodge’s Scenic Design and Donald Holder’s Lighting (from war to ghostly dreams) work symbiotically hand in hand with some of the most fantastic Projection Design I’ve ever seen (by Aaron Rhyne). Though I’d’ve preferred a bit more solid scenery and a tad less Peter Max coloration in videos, cumulative results are astonishing. Settings are comprised of full scale, detailed photographs artfully manipulated to indicate time of day and character movement. Anyone in this field should emphatically attend.
Linda Cho’s Costumes are period perfect, believably tattered, stylish when appropriate, glorious at court, and always collectively flattering.
Photos by Matthew Murphy Opening: Christy Altomare Photo of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, Wiki
Anastasia Book by Terrance McNally Music by Stephen Flaherty Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens Directed by Darko Tresnjak The Broadhurst Theatre 235 West 44th Street
Sunday night, Feinstein’s/54Below hosted a banquet of widely diverse selections from the work of collaborators Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty as honored by CCM otherwise known as the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Onstage talent was accomplished, represented oeuvre impressive and entertaining.
Our host tonight, impresario/director/vocalist Scott Coulter, graduated CCM in 1993. He’s stayed in touch and taught Master Classes at his alma mater. In honor of the school’s 25th New York Showcase for agents and casting directors, program head, Dr. Aubrey Berg, asked Coulter if he’d put together an evening celebrating its gifted alumni.
Coulter suggested a salute to Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the latter a CCM graduate. The pair were in beaming attendance. He then contacted alumni from the last 24 years drawing on a wealth of artists with Broadway credits. The early show ran like Swiss clockwork. (An entirely different one was presented at 9:30!)
Scott Coulter, Jessica Boevers Bogart
After Coulter’s charmingly besotted story about being roundly affected by the original 1990 production of Once On This Island (a Broadway revival is in development), we open with a vivacious “Journey To the Past” (Anastasia) as sung by Lexie Dorsett-Sharp, Carlyn Connolly, and Coulter. The three polished voices blend splendidly. Harmony is very fine.
“Times Like These” …a girl could use a dog… (Lucky Stiff) is delightfully rendered by Jessica Boevers Bogart who slips into character like a well fitting, zipperless dress. Bogart is sympathetic, delivers low key as effectively as soaring, and possesses comic timing. Kathryn Boswell’s “Under the Bridge,” (Anastasia- imminently opening on Broadway) demonstrates great skill in knowing what to restrain and when to let fly. Watch out Kelli O’Hara.
Kathryn Boswell, Victoria Cook
On stage, Max Chernin presents a stirring, character-credble “The Night That Goldman Spoke” (Ragtime), while from the bar area Lexie Dorsett-Sharp responds as Emma Goldman with round tones and powerful conviction. Both make the number come vibrantly alive. Also from Ragtime, we hear “Raining” as performed by Victoria Cook whose palpable pain, theatrical finesse, and every-woman persona lands a bull’s-eye.
The class of 2017, in New York for its program’s annual showcase, let loose with specially written lyrics for “I Was There” (Glorious Ones), an immensely moving anthem about why artists opt for hardscrabble life in the theater. Youthful hope and deep love of craft shone. Professor Berg spoke briefly, proudly surrounded by shepherded talent. CCM seems a hotbed of burgeoning aptitude.
Max Chernin, Lexie Dorsett-Sharp
Also Featured: Alysha Deslorieux’s big beautiful “Waiting For Life” which starts in character, but careens to simply grand vocal (Once On This Island); Preston Boyd’s uneven “Some Girls” (Once On This Island); Danette Holden’s “Back to Before” (Ragtime) evidencing superb control, pith, and range; John Riddle’s “Streets of Dublin” (A Man of No Importance), which displays his remarkable instrument, but interprets feeling as volume (gorgeous melody); Eric Sciotto’s low key lullaby rendition of “Solla Sollew” (Seussical); Mia Gentile’s “Notice Me Horton” (Seussical) with deft comic timing, but again, growing too big for the lyric.
Justin Patterson’s “Love Who You Love” (A Man of No Importance) is adroitly understated and direct (lovely cello); Sally Ann Tumas’s “Goodbye My Love” (Ragtime) reveals highly trained vocal subtlety; DeMone Seraphin starts “Make Them Hear You”, a tirade about injustice, with his hand in his pocket, killing the mood (lush, undulating piano); Alexa Green’s “Come Down from the Tree” (Once On This Island) is self conscious about sound, losing lyrical meaning.
Shoshana Bean offers an infectiously joyous “Mama Will Provide” (Ragtime); Jason Rieff’s “Human Heart” (Once On This Island) dramatically closes the show with backup by the company: The courage of a dreamer/The innocence of youth/The failures and the foolishness/That lead us to the truth…
I was fortunate enough to be among those in the BMI Musical Theater Workshop with Lynn and Steve and watched them become a team. It seemed like Kismet from the get-go. The multifaceted lyricist and composer have been collaborators for 30 years authoring accessible songs without losing specificity. They write smart, wry, exceptionally moving numbers and are, by the way, lovely people.
This is a worthy tribute.
Music Director/Pianist Ryan Shirar, Jacob Yates-Cello, Blake Allen-Viola- Yates and Allen CMM grads. Richard Oberacker, whose musical Bandstand is previewing on Broadway, sat in as pianist for one number.
Photos by Steve Friedman Opening: Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” sang Essential Voices USA with the kind of strapping vocal that conjured a Hollywood production number starring Norwegian figure skater/ film star, Sonja Henie.
In its 34th season, The New York Pops celebrated upcoming holidaze with an evening of rousing, homey cheer. Inspired by the iconic film White Christmas, the Pops’ Director/Conductor Steven Reineke invited two sets of siblings to perform perennial material culminating in the iconic Irving Berlin songs once sung in the film by Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby.
Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway wearing a closet full of stylish, festive gowns shared the stage with Will and Anthony Nunziata for whose distracting sequined jackets and bespoke shoes one needed sunglasses.
‘This time of year, everyone of every age and every walk of life knows the same songs,” noted Hampton Callaway swinging seamlessly into an Ella Fitzgerald arrangement of “Winter Wonderland.” As always, the vocalist added her own nuanced stamp -an octave rose and slid, a ritard affected… It’s happy and a bit sassy. Later, she rendered William Schermerhorn/Westley Whatley’s story/song “Yes, Virginia”, about Virginia O’Hanlon who, in 1897, wrote to The New York Sun and was told in no uncertain terms, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Performance glows with warmth and was not, for a minute, over the top. First violinist Cenovia Cummins added immeasurably.
Liz Callaway offered two songs from Lynn Ahrens/Steve Flaherty’s Anastasia for which she voiced Anya in the animated version. (The musical comes to Broadway this spring). Stepping into character like a fur coat, the actress rises, expressive and expansive, to lush melodies and yearning lyrics. Particularly appropriate this year, “Grown Up Christmas List” (David Foster/Linda Thompson Foster) emerges with sincere depth of spirit: No more lives torn apart/That wars would never start/And time would heal all hearts/And everyone would have a friend…
Nodding to the music teacher in tonight’s audience who gave him his first solo age 7, Will Nunziata sang “The Christmas Song” with sincerity and gently warbling vibrato. Twin, Anthony Nunziata rendered his grandmother’s favorite, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in honor of his grandfather and those who continue to serve abroad. In Act II, The brothers gave us John Bucchino/Michael Feinstein’s charming, as-if-written-for-them “Carnegie Hall” -both were making their Hall debut and the heartfelt, co-authored “The Gift Is You” which might refer as easily to their mother as Jesus Christ.
To my mind, there were two highlights: Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway’s gorgeous, original, harmonized duet of “Silent Night”/”Mary, Did You Know?” which rose to the rafters with palpable devotion and, new to me, “The Chanukah Song” (Stephen Schwartz/Steven Young), as rendered by Essential Voices USA, which movingly embraced principles as well as season with brotherhood and gratitude.
A White Christmas Medley covered everything from “Happy Holiday” to “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” as all four guests enthusiastically contributed. “Sisters,” was, of course, particularly apt. The ladies had an infectiously good time.
“We Need a Little Christmas” (from Mame) emerged a Jerry Herman wet dream- long, glorified and multi-layered as performed by The New York Pops and Essential Voices USA. Scrooge would’ve imploded on the spot.
Celebratory to the Nth degree, running smooth as an ice pirouette, the evening was peppered by welcome anecdotes and personal memories. Only Sound Design somewhat marred . Orchestra and chorus too often swallowed vocalists.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
The New York Pops: Make the Season Bright Steven Reineke-Music Director/Conductor Essential Voices USA-Judith Clurman Music Director/Conductor Guest Artists: Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Will Nunziata, Anthony Nunziata Carnegie Hall December 16, 2016 New York Pops Calendar