Annandale High School
Poverty, invasion, loss and schemes-- the Russian revolution of the early 1900s is tastefully explored in Bishop Ireton's production of Anastasia. The musical is adapted from the 1997 Disney movie and provides an alternative and more realistic twist on the overlooked Disney animated film.
The story begins in St. Petersburg, Russia, during the First World War when the Bolsheviks attack a ball and execute the Romanov family beginning the Russian revolution. Recovering from economic destruction, the year is now 1927 and a poverty-stricken Russia is uplifted by a rumor that the princess Anastasia survived the attack. Upon hearing this rumor, two conmen, Dmitry and Vlad (Aidan Foley and Aidan Furey), concoct a ploy to train a naïve girl as the princess to win the reward money set out by the Dowager Empress, Anastasia's grandma (Vivian Spendley). The pair select an amnesiac girl, Anya (Sofia Cruz), to be the puppet of their ploy. As Anya begins to recollect detailed memories that align with Anastasia's life, people, and Anya herself, she begins to question: is she the real princess Anastasia?
The actors generally maintained great energy to illustrate the despair and hopelessness of communist Russia and the lightheartedness and joy of Paris. A spine-chilling number "Stay, I Pray You" captured the true desolation of St. Petersburg. Another highlight was a remarkable train sequence in which moving set pieces, choreography, and the ensemble's grief are utilized during "We'll Go from There" to create an unforgettable piece.
Sofia Cruz had breathtaking vocals and carried sophistication in her physicality with constant engagement and reactions. There was great differentiation between the sadness and anger that came with her unknown past, determination and playfulness in the present, and the eerie similarities she carried from the past into the present. Accompanied by the charming and charismatic Aidan Foley as Dmitry, the pair established great chemistry. Notable character development was seen as Dmitry grew to be compassionate and trusting as opposed to the self-involved traits he began with.
Vlad and Lily (Melanie Becker) provided much needed comedic relief bringing rejoicing through their convincing romance to the gloomy. The pair worked great together but also individually to uplift and add humble perspective. Gleb (Aidan McNerney) was a fan favorite. The obvious character work McNerney had done, combined with strict posture and austere tone, all contrasted with his euphonious voice allowing for his memorable character. The Dowager Empress stood out during her solo where the outcome of her cynical grief and pain was expressed. This was later overcome with the incredibly overwhelming reunion with her granddaughter creating a remarkable moment.
Costumes were evidently researched to capture the time period. A neutral palette was used for the impoverished Russians as opposed to the brightly colored traditional outfits of the 20's. Light pastel pinks and yellows were used in the student-made Romanov family ball gowns. Creative lighting techniques helped convey location and mood, with brighter white light showing the youth and liveliness of Paris, contrasting the darker, warmer lights for the dull streets of Russia. Ominous blue lighting intensified as the memories of Anya's past grew stronger, and red lighting exhibited the Bolshevik communists. The intricate set design included multiple moving platforms and pieces allowing for explicit storytelling while adapting the relatively minimalistic set pieces for different locations by adding various accessories to serve multiple roles.
Concluding this journey to the past, the talented actors, technicians, crew and company at Bishop Ireton High School allowed for the exceptional production of Anastasia as one for the history books!
Fairfax High School
"I will ask you one last time, young woman, be very careful what you answer: who are you?" Our heroine, Anya, replies, "I don't know anymore. Who are you?" A story that tackles the complex themes of identity, honesty, and family, Anastasia at Bishop Ireton High School splendidly portrayed the nuance of discovering and being true to oneself.
Inspired by the Disney movie of the same name, Anastasia follows the story of an imaginative girl who can't quite remember her past. The death of the Romanov family and their missing daughter is a legend that consumes everyone's curiosity. Many people claim to be the infamous Anastasia, but to no avail, as the Dowager Empress knows exactly who she is looking for. When two men, Vlad and Dmitry come upon a girl with lost memory, they concoct a plan to have her claim to be Anastasia so they can collect a reward.
With such an emotionally compelling and demanding story, it is no small feat to lead this spectacle. Even so, the title character Anastasia (or Anya) was tactfully portrayed by Sofia Cruz. Cruz masterfully balanced the wistful nature of struggling to remember her past and a strong-willed girl who is striving to discover her true identity. She was always fully engrossed in her character, and her storytelling throughout her songs helped propel and clarify the narrative. Alongside her was Dmitry, portrayed by Aidan Foley, and Vlad portrayed by Aidan Furey. Each actor had a very strong stage presence as well as developed physicality. Foley artfully portrayed Dmitry's arc, which transformed him from a snarky conman to a compassionate friend and lover. Meanwhile, Furey's physicality and comedic precision made his portrayal of an older man believable and amusing. Together, Cruz, Foley, and Furey crafted an enticing trio that gave depth and compassion to the show.
Besides the enthralling main trio, the supporting characters delivered unforgettable performances. Countess Lily, portrayed by Melanie Becker had a vivacious and alluring presence that entranced viewers. Though she had a louder-than-life personality in certain scenes, she also skillfully played a huge contrast through her mannerisms and physicality, sometimes seeming timid and introverted. Every story must have an antagonist, and Aidan McNerney as Gleb delivered. Though he was the villain, he portrayed the Deputy Commissioner with passion and honesty, giving Gleb a complex character. His vocals were outstanding and seemingly effortless. "The Neva Flows" demonstrated his peak vocal ability which was admirable for the difficulty of the songs. Lastly, Elina Viana who portrayed Tsarina Alexandra was splendid in every way. Though she only was a facet of Anya's memory, she had an unforgettable presence. Her physicality made it easy to identify her as royalty, and her vocals were delightfully shocking for a teenager to portray.
Besides the jaw-dropping performances, the technical aspects wee what gave a beautiful finish to the show. Costumes, led by Michelle Dorman, Claire Gibbons, Gabriela Pena, and Lila Sampilo were not only period-accurate but coherent and sumptuous. The costumes worn in Anya's flashbacks were matching in pattern and had a sheen that gave them a mystifying appearance. Lastly, in a show with many settings, the Set team, led by Emma Rice, Sarah Schweers, Travis Rayome, and Joseph Murray, made for seamless and comprehensible transitions. Though minimalistic, the few set pieces were versatile and therefore used in many ways. The craftiness of the Set team only benefited the production as a whole.
Bishop Ireton's Anastasia was astounding in its depiction of love, loss, and identity. Incandescent performances paired with transfixing technical aspects constructed a spectacle that was truly enchanting.