By Alison Baumgartner
The story of Anastasia has been told through books, films and dramatic plays and now it’s bursting to life in a dazzling new musical. Inspired by two beloved films and one magnificent historical story, this romantic and adventure-filled musical runs April 20–22 at The Lincoln Center.
Anastasia transports the audience 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 dashing conman, and Vlad, a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love and family.
Bryan Seastrom, who plays Vlad, has been on tour with Anastasia for over a year. Seastrom sat down with us to discuss how Anastasia has become one of his all-time favorite performing experiences. “I feel very lucky to be cast in such a gorgeous show.” If it wasn’t luck, however, it may just well have been fate.
“When I saw the movie in 1997, I knew that there was something exciting and different about it,” says Seastrom. “I loved all the characters and their nuances, and I was really drawn to the character of Vlad. I thought that if that Anastasia ever became a Broadway musical, I want to do that. When it did become one, I was like ‘oh my gosh, this is crazy.’”
Perhaps Seastrom’s early love of Vlad is due in part to his attraction to comedic side characters with depth and complexity. From playing Cosmo in Singin’ in the Rain and Hook Hand in Tangled The Musical to becoming the much beloved Red Skelton in the Red Skelton Story, the boisterous Vlad was a natural fit for Seastrom.
In Anastasia, Vlad, along with his protégé Dmitri, are two conmen who think they have found a meal ticket when they meet Anya, a girl who looks remarkably like a long-deceased Romanov. If they succeed with their plan of passing her off as a princess, they can wave goodbye to their poverty forever. “Vlad and Dmitri are conmen, living in a depressed St. Petersburg, trying to get out,” says Seastrom. “They are opportunists. You’d think that a couple of conmen would be sneaky guys. But they’re not.”
“I incorporate a lot of Red Skelton into Vlad,” says Seastrom. “Skelton’s comedy came from the heart. He had you laughing and crying because his comedy came from a place of real joy. He was such a gentleman and a gentle soul. Everything he did came from a place of love and that is something that I found in Vlad. Yeah, he’s the comic relief, but he has a playfulness about him when he’s fooling around. He really cares about the people around him.”
One of the curious things about Anastasia is that its story is both myth and historical fact. Even at the time of making the animated movie, there was no definitive proof that the youngest Romanov daughter was slain alongside her family. For nearly a century, false Anastasia popped up alongside rumors of her survival. When asked why people find the story of her escape so compelling, Seastrom says the show tries to tackle that.
“[A living Anastasia] gave people hope that things would get better.” Essentially, a hope that things can return to the stability of before the Bolshevik revolution.
“It’s an optimistic show. Anya is looking for something. There is hope that she finds a place where she belongs. She finds the family that she has always longed for. That’s true for all of the characters in the show. Vlad used to be in the imperial court and he’s yearning for that glorious past that he used to have.”
The characters in the musical are also more grounded in reality and developed than their animated counterparts. Rather than a cartoonishly malnourished Rasputin casting black magic, the villain is molded by history.
“In the musical,” says Seastrom “they wanted a more realistic approach. The villain they created is Gleb, a Bolshevik officer and the son of one of the soldiers that killed the Romanovs. When he hears that Anastasia is still alive, he feels pressured to finish the job.” But beyond that, Gleb has his own questions about his pursuit of the girl. “Gleb is tortured too. He has to ask himself, ‘Am I just doing this because of peer pressure, or does he actually think she’s alive?’”
Though there are darker themes interwoven in the story, Seastrom says it’s the message of hope that people find engaging.
“Everyone is just looking for a version of a better life,” says Seastrom. “Everyone in the audience will find a way to relate to one of the characters in their own way. Grandmothers love the Dowager. Little girls love Anya. We’ve also had so many people who are adopted or estranged reach out to tell us how much the show means to them. The show makes them feel like they are not alone. They feel like they can find their own home, love and family.”
“I think that what sets Anastasia apart from other musicals is that it has a little bit of everything. It’s a comedy. It’s a romance. It’s a mystery. It’s an adventure story. It’s got a little bit of everything and it can appeal to anybody, no matter your age.”
In short, Seastrom says that it’s a show you really won’t want to miss. “It’s just a really great show to bring anyone you love to—Family, partners or your best friend.”
Come take a journey to the past with Anastasia April 20–22. Tickets start at $20 and are available at LCtix.com.
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