By Armita Rohani
Where do I even begin? The phenomenal choreography? The stunning costumes, lighting and set? The unparalleled talent of Sammi O’Connor, Ayden Weinstein, and Miles Seifert? The ensemble who brought the finishing touches of this performance? Anastasia was a rollercoaster and a dream, and the actors who brought the show to life were sensational. Clocking in at nearly 2.5 hours of hard work and dedication, music and comedy, and romance and flashbacks, Drama Club and the music department produced a one-of-a-kind hit show. The pit orchestra perfectly complemented the voices of the cast and ensemble as melodies flooded the auditorium.
We enter the scene with a beautiful and well choreographed ball (after the departure of the Dowager Empress; hats off to Ella Hinklin and Parker Levin!) with the Romanov family, the ensemble wearing elegant white gowns and the cast dressed in pink and golden dresses with tiaras and crowns sitting high on their heads. The stage was filled with dancing actors, surrounded by bright colors that brought joy to the last moments of the Romanov family as the palace was invaded and the royals were massacred. Fast forward a decade later, rumors of Anastasia’s survival engulf the streets. Vlad and Dmitry fight hard for the shot to take Anya to Paris, narrowly avoiding Gleb throughout it. With a little training on dancing and how to act “princessly,” as well as a remarkably executed fight scene, the trio board the train and are off to Paris. A moving and functioning train–alongside a smoke machine for good measure–takes the trio there, and stage crew did a remarkable job pulling it off. The wanted poster and Vlad and Dmitry’s humor bring along comedy on their escape. And let’s not forget Christian Ryszka as Gleb’s solo on the Russian Revolution; it was incredible (the background was pretty cool too)!
Act I was stunning, and the flashback scene as Anya discovers the music box while past memories come flooding back was simply marvelous and a perfect recreation of the first dance scene among the Romanov family. Nevertheless, the friendship and bond that Anya, Dmitry and Vlad share was heartwarming and-at times-comedic, whether it be when Anya gives her diamond to Dmitry to get them to Paris, when they were all dancing together in the remnants of the palace, or when Anya challenges Dmitry to a fight moments after he saw her chase off the drunkards (whose acting were, might I say, funny and spot on). Not only was the comedy hilarious, but the developing romance between Anya and Dmitry was phenomenally compelling. The quick glances, the dances, and the small conversations between Vlad and Dmitry say it all.
Act II picks up with a Parisian dance, the cast fitted with beautiful dresses and stunning suits as Vlad gets his date with Countess Lily–after Phoebe Auquier performed a stunning hit that was not only well choreographed, but also had very cool lighting. Their romantic comedy brought laughter to the audience. Meanwhile, in a haze of a nightmare, Dmitry rushes to comfort Anya, and through a retelling of an “In a Crowd Of Thousands” story, Anya discovers that she truly is the princess Anastasia whom Vlad and Dmitry found her to be. And let’s not forget Maddie Heim’s mildly disturbing line: “Can I tell you a secret? I’m gonna die soon–we all are!” as it definitely set the mood for that moment.
The jokes about the Buffalonian imposter, might I add, were very funny and many people cracked a laugh (great delivery from Parker Levin)! As Vlad and Countess Lily prepare for Anya’s introduction, Gleb grows closer and closer to the trail of our heroine. Sammi O’Connor debuts the iconic sparkling dark blue dress (that she totally rocked), as she and Ayden recreate the “first look” scene. A Russian ballet is performed, and Anya is claimed to be a fraudulent imposter and wants to leave the Parisian life behind her against Dmitry and Vlad’s wishes. The scene with Dmitry standing up to the Dowager Empress? Talk about a turning point in the story (and a well executed performance)! Through Dmitry’s confrontation, the Empress returns to Anya and finally discovers that she truly was the lost princess Anastasia, all through a music box. Oh yeah, and remember the fact that Gleb was following Anya to Paris? Well, the two finally face off as Anya is held at gunpoint, and Christian gives a fantastic performance of Gleb as he is unable to pull the trigger. Yet, even after discovering her identity as the lost princess, Anya chooses to be with Dmitry instead (the kiss scene was REALLY well pulled-off; hats off to Sammi and Ayden), and the performance ends with a dance sequence between the two.
Talk about a hit show! The sheer talent of the cast absolutely needs to be mentioned. The dance sequences of the ensemble and the ballet quartet were fabulously pulled off, and the singing of our leads was phenomenal. Sammi and Ayden were remarkable during their final performance at East, their acting and singing skills simply unmatched. Pit was stunning and they played beautifully throughout the whole night. The audience loved them–everyone erupted into applause at the end of their songs and they received a bustling standing ovation at the finale of the night. As for me, I loved all of it–the romance between Anya and Dmitry, the perfectly executed fight and train scenes, the comedy that Vlad and Dmitry supplied throughout the entire night, the standoff between Gleb and Anya, all of it was stunning and perfect, and I am thankful to have seen such a brilliant performance.
Lets not forget to mention how the play was for the cast as well; it’s one thing to be seeing it in action, but it’s another to be on the stage performing it from start to finish.
Ayden Weinstein (Dmitry/President of Drama Club): “I would describe this experience as super fulfilling and rewarding. It was such a joy and such a gift to do a show like Anastasia as my final musical on the east stage. I am going to miss this club so much but I’m so glad to have had such amazing experiences being a part of it. I felt the shows were absolutely amazing; each and every show had a new audience and we got to tell this beautiful story four times to completely different audiences, which is really the joy of what performing is.”
Sammi O’Connor (Anya/Co-VP of Drama Club): “I would describe my experience in this year’s musical as one that was memorable, formative, and exciting as I was able to finish out my time with the East Drama Club with an incredible group of people. I think the show went amazingly and I wouldn’t have changed a thing!”
Miles Seifert (Vlad): “Experience wise, it was a lot of fun and I was really glad I did it. The show went very well and I’m with how all of the nights went.”
Christian Ryszka (Gleb): “I would say that this certainly has been an amazing experience for me. While this is not my first production with the Drama Club, this has certainly been the most challenging and demanding role I’ve undertaken. The character of Gleb is driven by his complexities and his morals. As an actor, it’s necessary to exemplify the conflict that he goes through in the show. This allows the audience to be a part of this journey right by my side. Another factor of this experience is most certainly the cast that I had time with. This year gave us a lot of newcomers and returning stars and it was a pleasure to work with each and everyone of them. They were all so fun and exuberant that it made each day of rehearsal a little bit better. I believe that we managed to make something beautiful for the stage. The story of people challenging adversaries and pursuing the hope for a better day is truly inspiring for many audiences. We couldn’t have accomplished that without the full commitment of our cast and crew. They went above and beyond when it came to their roles in making this show work the way it did. I am so proud of everything we accomplished in the last four months and I know they will have just as many successes through each of their tenures at East.”
Ella Hinklin (Young Anastasia): “On the actress side of things, the musical is so much fun to be a part of! Singing, acting, and dancing are some of my favorite things to do, but what really makes the musical special is all the friendships you make. The community is so wholesome and fun, and a great way to get involved. There is no better way to bond with people than backstage at a super long rehearsal!!”
Luca Ballarin (Count Ipolitov/Gorlinsky): “The rehearsals were fun but challenging at times; overall, it was an amazing experience. The shows went really well and I think I wouldn’t change anything.”
Shoutout to Jenny McCabe (our wonderful director), Ms. Reilly (vocal director and producer), Ms. LoVullo (choreographer), Ms. Ieda (pit orchestra director), stage crew, and everyone else who made this production possible. Anastasia was incredible, and I have no idea how I wrote an article on this when words could not come close to describing everyone’s fantastic performances.