There’s a rumour in Toronto that Anastasia is in town. Consider that rumour confirmed. Ed Mirvish Theatre showcased the Broadway musical under the direction of Darko Tresnjak. In a bold and beautiful retelling of a classic, we take a trip to Russia in 1906.

The story begins at Saint Petersburg with an uprising that led to the death of the royal family, the Romanovs.

Ten years later, we meet our protagonists: Dimitry (Jake Levy), a con man, his accomplice Vlad Popov (Edward Staudenmayer), a former member of the Imperial Court, and Anya (Lila Coogan), a hard working streetsweeper with no recollection of a life before the orphanage.

The three come together and make plans to escape to Paris. Dimitry and Vlad in search of a better life for themselves using the reward the Dowager Empress (Joy Franz) is offering for the safe return of her missing granddaughter Anastasia who is thought to have survived the slaughter of the royals; Anya in search for fragments of a family she can’t remember.

If you’re like me, your first introduction to the Romanovs might be in the form of an animated movie that included a talking bat, a powerful sorcerer antagonist, appropriately timed musical numbers that carry the plot, and a puppy sidekick.

In place of the animated antagonist, Rasputin, we have General Gleb Vaganov (Jason Michael Evans). A loyal member of the Bolsheviks who ruled after the fall of the Romanovs, Gleb follows the protagonists to Paris. His mission: ensure the Grand Duchess Anastasia does not come back from the dead.

Drawing more from history, the musical humanizes the plot. This might be the reason why it’s so captivating. Stripped of the fantasy, it presents a story more horrific than an angry magician. It tells of class struggle and power play, grief and loss, hope and redemption.

The musical isn’t fantastical. No bat, no sorcerer, and no puppy. But even without these elements, the production itself is pure magic. Glittering lights that melt into snow and disperse as flowers, enchanting musical numbers, stunning choreography, and a dynamic set that take us from Saint Petersburg to Paris.

Far from its predecessor that softens it, Anastasia is a musical that brings things familiar and old to a refreshing new light.

I recommend it to anyone who seeks a journey to the past.

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