Monday, June 19, 2017

At the Beginning (Again) With 'Anastasia'

I’m over the moon about the new Broadway musical Anastasia. Because it’s based on one of the movies that defined my childhood.

Related image
Christy Altomare as Anastasia (

I remember seeing it in theaters, and then when it came out on VHS my mom said I had to clean my room before I could watch it. I cleaned my room and I watched it. And then I watched it again and again and again. Granted, it was years before I could sit through the nightmare scene (I had that problem with a lot of movies). But I learned all the songs. I knew all the quotes by heart. I loved having a heroine who both (a) kicked butt and (b) wore beautiful dresses. No, seriously, SHE. SAVES. THE. DUDE. AND SHE BEATS THE BAD GUY. SHE FREAKING KILLS HIM. That had NOT been a thing in animated princess movies before then, to my knowledge. And the shot where she steps on the reliquary is immensely satisfying. #GirlPower

And ‘Anastasia’ is just the most beautiful, perfect princess name ever. Not only that, but, as Vlad says in the movie, “The name ‘Anastasia’ means she will rise again.” Funny, how the musical is breathing new life into the fandom. It’s really amazing to be seeing this happen on the Internet.


If I had to pick my favorite non-disney animated movie, it would be a tie between Anastasia and Thumbelina. It just did something for me that few other movies could. The story, the animation style, the movie satisfies me the way Anastasia does. The themes and the story tie into a lot of my other fandoms--and, yes, I can’t help noticing the connection with a certain Soviet super-assassin with a metal arm. Hence I feel the need to share this crossover fan art:

Comrades in Love
Is that Bucky and Natasha or Dmitri and Anya? Yes. (Pinterest)

The movie was my gateway drug to all things Russian. The fairy tale led me to the story of the real Anastasia. The real Anastasia led me to Russia’s beautiful history and culture--golden-domed churches, curved kokoshnik tiaras, Ivan the Terrible, Moscow, Catherine the Great, and of course Saint Petersburg.

One of the other impacts was that it gave me a taste for stories about amnesiac princesses--that became a common trope in some of my childhood daydreams. Also magic necklaces.

When I was older and recovering from the trauma that was middle school, I felt like I had to find myself again. That was when the songs “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December” became real to me.

Related image
Hello Giggles

My freshman year at BYU I took an introduction to sewing class. During the lab period the other students and I would take turns playing our music. One day, “At the Beginning” came on and some of our classmates said they’d never heard it before. The rest of us thought that was ridiculous. So a few lab days later, we watched Anastasia in class so they could get the reference. The professor happened to come down that day to check on us--she told us we couldn’t watch movies in lab anymore. But it was worth it.

(Not to mention, I went to a friend's wedding last Friday, and you'll never guess what song they played for the bride and groom first dance).

The last time I sat down to watch the movie was right before I graduated college. More recently, I was able to buy the movie soundtrack at a thrift store. I don’t listen to it nearly as much as I ought to.

Also, this happened on Tumblr a couple years ago:

Tumblr screenshot

I was neutral bordering on, I’ll admit, a little hesitant when it was announced that Anastasia was going to be revamped for a Broadway musical (although I couldn’t tell you why). But the soundtrack, the photos and the stage footage we have seen about it in the last few months is nothing short of phenomenal. It’s really brought back the magic. I have an aunt who is going to see Anastasia on Broadway in September and let me tell you I am so jelly.

The new musical makes significant changes to the story and some of the classic songs as well as adding a lot of new material. I don’t really miss Rasputin and Bartok, tbh. But the changes they made for the stage were a tribute to the real history of the Russian Revolution, the Romanovs, and what came afterward. And honestly, those changes make me want to see it even more.

Just like
Every other
Nineties kid
I went home
And learned about
The real
And I learned to like
that version too

And I can understand the need to make a story originally produced for the big screen fit better for a 2-hour stage performance where all you have to work with are humans. I took a Theater 101 class in college. Film and stage share some elements of visual storytelling, but the stage is three-dimensional and tactile to an audience and some story elements cannot be conveyed to the same effect as they would on screen. You have to tell the story differently. Yet the nods we do have to the original film give you chills: the blue gown that Anya wears to the ballet, the absolutely stirring performances of “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December,” a few measures in “Stay, I Pray You” borrowed from “In the Dark of the Night”, the ghosts of the Romanov family. It’s familiar and brand new at the same time. .
Related image
justjaredjr I mean HOOOOLY CRAP

I was able to listen to the soundtrack almost all the way through last weekend, thanks to YouTube. Christy Altomare brings an innocence and freshness to Anya’s character, at least in her singing. “In My Dreams” is my favorite new song. It’s a waltz like “Once Upon a December,” but with more major notes, and it conveys the depth of the loss and trauma that Anya has experienced as well as her hope.

I can’t really say much about the new villain, Gleb, without having seen the stage show. But the songs he sings hint at not only his internal conflict but his keen awareness of how revolutions bring out the worst in humanity. And the point is, the bad guy wants to kill her.

I have to admit, I don’t really like the new finale. Probably because I was expecting a reprise of “Journey to the Past,” “Once Upon a December” kind of kills the optimistic vibe about Anya choosing to be herself and go with Dmitri. But, I haven’t actually seen the performance and I don’t know when I’m going to, so I’ll give the jury more time to deliberate on that. So far I still like the movie better--but the musical does a lot for me. It can stay.

Image result for anastasia broadway

I don’t blame the creators of the stage version wanting to go back and explore some of the themes that were hinted at in the film, because there is a LOT to work with.

The Soviet Union and Communism was never mentioned directly in the movie, although we had a couple of cues (Vladimir’s passport, the “People’s Orphanage,” people calling each other comrade. The musical, however, lets us know all about that.  In the new version of “A Rumor in Saint Petersburg,” we open with a speech from Communist party leaders and people complaining about bread lines, and a brief mention of Saint Petersburg being renamed Leningrad. I went to a Russian Choir concert at BYU around easter, and the choir sang a lot of wartime Soviet ballads--let me tell you, “Stay, I Pray You” really draws from that genre. But it also conveys the idea that Russia is still Russia no matter who is in charge of it.

Image result for anastasia broadway
Dmitri, Vlad, and Anya in the Hartford stage production (pre-Broadway) (Hartford Stage)

Anastasia is the story of a young woman who is trying to figure out who she is in terms of both where she came from and who she can be, a journey from the past (Saint Petersburg) to the future (Paris). If you know anything about history, you would know that Paris during the roaring twenties is a major artistic and intellectual hub for people suffering post-World War I Disillusionment. The musical shows us the Russian expats who escaped the Revolution and expressing their bitterness in “Land of Yesterday”. In real life, we had a lot of American expats living and writing in Paris at the time, most notably Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. A person who walks into that kind of a scene might be provoked to ask certain questions. World War I destroyed a lot of faith that people had in the old way of doing things--monarchy, empire, aristocracy, religion, morality, and so on. Paris, more relevant to the story overall, represented the forward-thinking and forward-mindedness of the future, and it is a place where Anya has to come to terms with what she really wants. Russia at the time is a Communist country where the government dictates the economy and brainwashes people to be loyal to the State, it represents stagnation. Capitalist, glittering Paris is a gateway to opportunity, freedom, and exploration of self.

The movie is probably best thought of as a fantasy that represents working through your inner demons. Rasputin and his minions are a reminder that childhood is, from a child’s perspective, scary. The things that are trying to separate you from what you want are simply understood as monsters and demons and dark magic. You also live in a world where adults say one thing but mean something else. If you don’t believe me, someone at The Atlantic had similar comments to say about Jim Henson’s Labrynth. But, anyway, back to Anastasia, the movie goes to show, those monsters can be slain. The “good magic” if any, comes from what is safe and familiar--the ghosts of her lost family, the lullaby, finding her grandmother again.

The Broadway musical, I guess, is about adulthood, about transitioning into the world emotionally and spiritually. You’re physically an adult, but inside you still have to do some growing up. It is also a reflection of today’s world where there is so much social upheaval and young adults like me go through a lot of displacement, from home, to college, to the job field, and then the challenge of trying to figure out who they are. Anya’s stage journey from Saint Petersburg to Paris is an analogy of this, where we’re coming from versus where we’re trying to get to. Which brings me to another point: somehow I relate more with the lost Anya the Orphan than the snarky teenage IRL Anastasia, because Anya doesn’t know who she is or where she belongs, and she has to find that out for herself. And that’s a journey people tend to get lost on.

I wish I could write like this movie's writers. The story between Anastasia and Dmitri is beautifully done.
One of the most important meta posts ever written about any movie (Pinterest)

Just because we have this new version of the Anastasia legend does not mean we have to discard any version that came before. The good thing about telling stories is that they can be told over and over again. And if you tell a story in a different way each time, then you learn something new from it. It's still something you can enjoy without being uptight about the (lack of) historical accuracy. The important thing is not who or what Anastasia is about but about the journey the characters go on, and what we learn from going with them. The message has always been, and will continue to be, that following your heart is the most important thing. When you know who you really are, then everything else will fall into place. Anastasia is a story that was important to me in my childhood and teen years. It is a story that I continue to find a lot of meaning in.

anastasia's journey
20th Century Fox/Pinterest


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.