Anastasia Cast Recording: A Review
Though it may have received a lukewarm reception from critics, the original cast recording of the Broadway musical Anastasia gives no indication that this show has any failings. In fact, the lush and lively cast album from Broadway Records is a delight from start to finish. The Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty score percolates with energy and sumptuous voices. The songs that have been kept from the 1997 film are as wonderful as they ever were, but even more importantly, the new ones written for this Broadway mounting sparkle and reveal new depths to the characters, the story, and the mood of the piece.
From the first notes of the Prologue, the melancholy Russian flavor of the show comes through in the orchestrations of Doug Besterman. An homage to Stravinsky here, a dash of Tchaikovsky there, a dose of Prokofiev for good measure, all efforts create the perfect atmosphere to tell the tale of the daughter of Russian Tsar Nicholas II who may or may not have escaped execution with the rest of her family. The same can be said when the setting transfers to Paris. You can practically smell the croissants baking. Though the score walks a tightrope between serious musical drama and blatant musical comedy, Besterman expertly weaves us in and out of both styles, keeping everything of one piece. It is really a treat to listen to how he judiciously employs the full orchestra one moment and then has it fall away to the simple haunting strains of a single violin.
Of the new Ahrens and Flaherty songs, two in particular ignite on this album. The first is the soaring “I Am” song for Anya “In My Dreams”, introducing us to the title character. Christy Altomare exhales gusto and glory with each note. It is always a pleasure to hear an expert voice married to the perfect song. The other number that really resonates is the melancholy “Stay, I Pray You”, as Anya (Altomare), Dmitry (Derek Klena), and Vlad (John Bolton) leave behind their country, saying goodbye to their homeland for what they presume will be forever. It’s an achingly palpable song that grows into some intoxicating harmonies. Also effective is Mary Beth Peil’s rendition of “Closing the Door”, her monologue of despair over the search to find her missing granddaughter. Peil has never quite been given her due for her ability to find revealing nuance in her characterizations, but she exercises it here with aplomb. Emotion trickles through her vocals, a steady but sturdy stream of the complex feelings of someone who has found the strength to weather a storm.
The cast album of Anastasia is a treat throughout, every voice on point, every moment a masterful experience in emotion through song. The numbers that carried over from the animated film all survive the transfer and sound wonderful. Of special note, Altomare’s performance of “Journey to the Past” is simply mesmerizing and invigorating at the same time. It’s hard to believe someone can sing in the shadow of Liz Callaway and end up rivaling the memory of her vocal pyrotechnics. Altomare does.
The exquisiteness of this album should be attributed to the always high standards of Broadway Records, the most consistent of quality in those capturing musical theatre for posterity. Their Grammy-winning The Color Purple album from last year is one of the best cast albums ever preserved, but this recording of Anastasia is no slouch either. The sound is pristine; there is clarity in every lyric. The music is mixed with perfection. The CD booklet containing the liner notes is about the loveliest ever produced. Forgive my hyperbole, but when you see the multitude of glorious production photos, you will understand my effusiveness. This is an album you will want to own.