March theatre – Off-Broadway and Anastasia

Hey all, Adina back again with more theater adventures! Catch up on February or the rest of my  theater escapades. March of brought me to NYC for two trips: a double show day for 2 off-Broadway shows: Cagney and Spamilton, then again a few weeks later for the gorgeous Anastasia, based on the 1997 animated feature of the same name.

 

Cagney is based on the life story of performer James “Jimmy” Cagney, best known in the 1940s for playing a string of “tough guys” and gangsters in the 1940s for Warner Brothers studios.  (The most apt modern comparison I can think of is Nick Cordero.) Cagney started out in vaudeville and was an accomplished dancer as well as actor. More interestingly to me, he fought for workers’ rights and was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild union. It was a fun little show at the Westside Theatre, where I’d seen Nora Ephron’s play Love, Loss, & What I Wore years ago. The set was a marquee old-fashioned frame. The show took you from Cagney’s young days in Manhattan fighting for fellow workers to him opposing the”studio system” and how he was treated by Jack Warner (and Warner Bros. Studios) to him receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards in 1977.

"Made it, Ma! Top of the world!"
“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”
Like an old-fashioned marquee!
Like an old-fashioned marquee!

After Cagney ended, I booked it to the subway so I could get uptown to the Triad theater on West 72nd where Spamilton was. This was a short musical by the makers of Forbidden Broadway and it specifically poked fun at the phenomenon that is Hamilton. The Triad is a small theater, with tables and chairs instead of rows of seats and there’s a 2-drink minimum to give you an idea of how small and intimate this space is.

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The songs were all to the tune of fave musical numbers, mostly from Hamilton, such as “Livid” (“Helpless”) and “Lin-Manuel as Hamilton” (“Alexander Hamilton”). They also threw shade on some theater legends such as Audra McDonald. (Woman sitting behind me: “How dare you?” LOL!) It’s a funny, cute show and if you like parodies, you’ll like this.

Cast of Spamilton
Cast of Spamilton

A few weeks later, I was back in the theater district to see the gorgeous musical Anastasia. I’d gone in a few hours early to try to catch Kara Lindsay at the Wicked stage door. I got to see the current Fiyero, but alas, no Kara this time. However, while wandering near 47th St, I happened to see a guy who looked familiar on the corner of 47th and 8th (not far from the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where Waitress is currently playing). Surprise! It’s Berger from Hair and currently Earl from Waitress: Will Swenson! Excellent timing.

A wild Swenson appears!
A wild Swenson appears!

Anyway, back to Anastasia! The story is based on the 1997 animated feature of the same name which starred the voices of Meg Ryan, John Cusack, and more. The musical (and the movie) tell the story of the long-lost Russian princess, Anastasia Romanov. It starts with Anastasia as a young girl and her family getting assassinated, but she survives (or does she?). Then we meet Anya, a young woman who has no memory of her childhood and no connections. She stumbles upon an opportunity to “pretend” to be the princess Anastasia, but as time goes on, it seems more and more like she actually is the princess. The musical follows the same basic plot as the movie did, but with less “magical” elements — there’s no Rasputin, no evil sorcerer. The “enemy” is the government. Which is even more terrifying if you think about it.

Gleb and Anastasia

Ramin Karimloo, most recently seen as Jean Valjean in Les Mis, plays a new character, Gleb, who is a Russian soldier trying to do the “right thing” for his job and his country. I say “right thing” loosely, because he represents the Communist regime.

The set design and costumes were amazing for this production. The show got a well-deserved Tony nomination for costumes. The songs were mostly the ones we remember from the movie — “Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past,” along with some new ones that fit in seamlessly. This is definitely a show I’m going to see more than once. Haven’t had the opportunity yet, but I’ll get there.

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The whole production was breathtaking. Go see this one if you can. Christy Altomare and Derek Klena are Anya and Dimitry come to life; they could not be more perfect. Also starring as the Grand Duchess, Anastasia’s grandmother, is Mary Beth Peil. She is an accomplished stage actress and has many Broadway credits. Most people our generation remember her as Grams in Dawson’s Creek.

Young Anastasia and her grandmother.
Young Anastasia and her grandmother.

We stage-doored, naturally, and I got to tell Ms. Peil I enjoyed her performance in 2015’s The Visit (starring Chita Rivera). It had been a small musical, a little strange, and not very much publicized. Ms. Peil was in the ensemble and she was terrific. When we saw her after Anastasia, she seemed pleased that I was commenting on The Visit. Probably not many people my age saw it! Ramin Karimloo signed our Playbills, but he wasn’t taking pictures with anyone. (Tee-hee, I got him!)

stagedooring at Anastasia

Next time: April’s adventures brought me to a few off-Broadway plays, I caught the moving Significant Other before it closed, back to Paper Mill for Million Dollar Quartet, and the long-awaited Bandstand. See you then!

 

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