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‘Anastasia’ review: Christy Altomare is smashing in Broadway’s musical adaptation

"Anastasia" stars Christy Altomare and Derek Klena. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

‘Anastasia’ plays an open run at the Broadhurst Theater. 235 W. 44th St., anastasiabroadway.com.

Combine early 20th-century Russian history with bits and pieces of “Les Miz,” “My Fair Lady” and “Newsies,” and you’ve got “Anastasia,” the uneven but well-meaning and mostly pleasant new Broadway musical based on the 1997 animated film of the same title from 20th Century Fox.

Set in 1920s Russia and Paris, two down-on-their-luck men scheme to find a young woman who they can successfully pass off as the tsar’s youngest daughter, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, who was rumored to have somehow survived the Russian Revolution. Unexpectedly, they encounter the real Anastasia, who now goes by the name Anya and is working as a street sweeper.

The film “Anastasia” was modeled after the Disney movie musicals of the 1990s. Considering Disney’s success at adapting those films for Broadway, it’s no surprise to see “Anastasia” finally land there, too.

The highlights of the score, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime,” “Seussical”), are the pretty power ballads from the film — “Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past.”

Terrence McNally’s book for the musical is held together by Anya’s rediscovery of her former self and the reluctant recognition of her by the Dowager Empress, her grandmother.

However, too much time is filled with drawn-out scenes and new songs (also by Ahrens and Flaherty) that are not as memorable. Also, the film’s supernatural villain (who had a talking albino bat) has been awkwardly replaced by a Javert-like public official named Gleb (Ramin Karimloo) who is assigned with hunting down and possibly murdering Anya.

“Anastasia” is more scaled-down and intimate than Disney’s stage musicals. As directed by Darko Tresnjak (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”), it looks elegant, moves seamlessly and makes unusually great use of background digital projections.

Christy Altomare is smashing as Anya, with powerhouse vocals full of spark and sensitive yearning. As her love interest, Derek Klena is appropriately handsome and bright (think Jack Kelly in “Newsies”). Stage veteran Mary Beth Peil makes a strong impression as the grandmother. Karimloo, who played Valjean in “Les Miz,” makes the most of a superfluous role.

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