The leading talents behind the Broadway’s “Anastasia” are celebrating their touring debuts during the 25th anniversary of the namesake film, “Anastasia.”
Twenty-three-year-old Veronica Stern takes the stage as Anya alongside costars Willem Butler, 23, as Dmitry and 32-year-old Ben Edquist as Gleb. Playing as part of Regions Bank Broadway in Atlanta’s 2022/2023 season, the Atlanta premiere engagement of “Anastasia” will play Dec. 6 through 11.
This journey to the past transports audiences from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of a dashing conman and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love and family.
The leading trio says they were exposed to theatre early on in their lives and immediately fell in love. Stern hails from New York where she grew up going to Broadway musicals and at around 12 years old, attended a performing arts summer camp. Butler said he was around four years old when he saw his brother in theater. Edquist recalls “stealing and eating the prop bagels” backstage of “The Fiddler on the Roof.”
The rest is history.
Unlike many Broadway musicals, audiences have already met most of the characters thanks to the film. One of the biggest differences, however, is Edquist’s character Gleb replacing the movie’s villain, Rasputin.
“The biggest difference in performing a film-to-stage musical is expectations,” Edquist said. “People have a mental image of a character that they LOVE. And you have to make that character your own, but still as lovable. Luckily for this show I don’t have that problem since my character is only in the stage version.”
Gleb was just a child when the Russian revolution kicked off and becomes a general in the Bolshevik army where he is ordered to kill Anya.
“It’s very easy to play Gleb as a single-minded, ‘Javert’-like character, but I think he’s a much more complicated kid trying to live up to his father’s legacy, even though it’s against his nature,” Edquist said. “And I try to weave all of that in to the character in a relatively short amount of stage time.”
Additionally, Butler said he thinks the stage version of Dmitry is grittier and dirtier than the movie version. Audiences get to see more of what he has been through during the revolution.
“He has really been through the trenches of the revolution and you get to see that a lot more,” Butler said. “I really liked the feeling and vibe of John Cusack’s voice in the movie. Something about this breathiness really stood out to me, almost like he’s always trying to talk softly because anyone could be listening at any time. The movements and facial expressions of the cartoon also play a big part in informing my character work.”
“Anastasia” also joins other movies and musicals that have hired more performers of color. From Disney’s upcoming “The Little Mermaid” with Halle Bailey to Emilie Kouatchou (Christine Daaé) in “The Phantom of the Opera,” audiences are finally seeing more diversity on stage.
“It’s an honor to be portraying a princess on stage every night,” Stern said. “I feel so lucky that this show allows whoever steps into Anya’s shoes to be whoever THAT person is. When I see black and brown faces in the audience I remember how much seeing someone that looked like me on a stage or screen meant and it makes me very emotional (in a good way) that I could be that for someone else.”
“Anastasia” features a book by celebrated playwright the late Terrence McNally, a lush, new score by the Tony Award-winning creators of the Broadway classic Ragtime, Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), and tour direction by Sarah Hartman based on original direction by Tony Award-winning director Darko Tresnjak.
“Anastasia” began performances on Broadway in March 2017 at the Broadhurst Theatre and has since played to sold out audiences on Broadway for more than three years. The production performs across North America and in Japan, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
Globally, the show has been performed more than 2,500 times and sold 3.4 million tickets. Additionally, the show has garnered more than 15 major international awards, including Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards and Best New Musical in Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
“I love specifically how the musical feels so classical in a contemporary world,” Butler said.
“When I saw it on Broadway what stood out to me was how they managed to bring that classic love story and sound to a modern audience...It’s a gorgeous story that I could listen to over and over and over again. I never get tired of performing the show.”
Tickets are available at the Fox Theatre box office at 660 Peachtree Street NE, online at foxtheatre.org/Anastasia or by calling (855)-285-8499. Group orders of 10 or more may be placed by calling the Fox Theatre at (855)-285-8499.