Thanks to a wonderful partnership between the Tampa Bay Bloggers and the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, I receive two free tickets to see “Anastasia.” All opinions are my own.
Last night I thoroughly enjoyed the opening night of “Anastasia” in Tampa, Florida! The North American tour of Broadway’s Anastasiastarted on October 9, 2018, and is playing in 30 cities in its first season. The magnificent production completely drew me in – I laughed, I cried, and I loved it!
ANASTASIA is a true fairy tale production that transports audiences from the Russian Empire to Paris in the 1920s. A brave young woman – Anya – sets out to discover the mystery of her past. She teams up with a dashing conman and a lovable ex-aristocrat to find home, love, and family; all while being pursued by a Soviet officer determined to silence her. History and myth intertwine, in a show reminiscent of both ANNIE and MY FAIR LADY.
The show is carried by opulent and innovative sets, dazzling costumes (yes, there is a blue dress), and a soaring score. The show features an original score by Tony winners Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), who also wrote the songs for the 1997 animated film on which the stage musical is based. The stage production does include the songs “Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past.” The songs were plentiful and performed beautifully, and the audience gave the applause to show it!
“I think that right now, seeing a young woman take charge of her future is so current and relevant.”
Lila Coogan, playing Anya in the current touring production
Anastasia is approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes, including one intermission. It is only showing in Tampa through May 12, 2019! The May 9, 7:30pm performance will be sign language interpreted. Get your tickets here.
This week I got a special treat as part of a partnership between Tampa Bay Bloggers and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida. I received two tickets to see “A Bronx Tale” in exchange for this post.
“A Bronx Tale” started their national tour in fall 2018 and is currently in Tampa, Florida. But get your tickets fast! The show is only in town through February 3!
(And I know February sounds like it’s a long way off, but it’s tomorrow…)
The show’s book is an autobiographical tale by Academy Award nominee Chazz Palminteri (who has been in over 55 movies, so you know him from something), with music by Oscar, Grammy, and Tony Award winner Alan Menken (As in Disney’s Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Aladdin, Little Shop of Horrors, Enchanted, etc…) and lyrics by Grammy Award winner and Oscar and Tony Award nominee Glenn Slater, directed by two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro (you know who he is!) and four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Tony nominee Sergio Trujillo.
I believe this was my first time going into a Straz show without knowing anything about the production, nor having seen the film. It was just date night with my husband and anything could happen. So imagine our surprise when this guy’s tale about being raised by a loving family in the home and the MOB outside the home told one of OUR stories in the middle of it!
The lead character, C, based on Chazz Palminteri, is told if he picks up a girl in a car and opens the door for her, she should unlock his door from the inside while he walks around to his side of the car – or she’s too selfish to bother with. Brian totally tested me that way on a date 22+ years ago! When we first started dating he was in college living in a dorm without a car, and I drove us around in my mom’s Toyota Camry, which had power locks. But when he was home on spring break or summer break, he’d have his dad’s car (Bessie) and she did not have power locks. So he used that test on me the first time he picked me up in the burgundy Pontiac.
“A Bronx Tale” is full of real life stuff like that – only the guy had mob ties, so for him that was also part of real life stuff. But so was learning about following his heart and passion from his dad, and standing up for what he believed in when he went against the status quo – natural parts of many lives.
The song was touching at many moments, racially charged, funny, relatable, shocking and sad at other moments. The singing ties everything together, although the dancing is athletic and wonderful when it pops up!
“A Bronx Tale” started as a one-man show, so this musical adaptation is guided heavily by C’s narration. This let’s audiences frequently know what was going on in his head. It is set in the 1960s, so the score is heavy on doo-wop style music. The show reminded me more of “Jersey Boys” than of my own time living in New York City because of the period it was set in. There are a couple of video clips on the backstory on the Straz’s website. You can also see more on the show’s YouTube channel, I like this one highlighting the kid who kicks off the production with chops. Frankie Leoni was great as young C, and another standout singer was Richard H. Blake as Lorenzo, C’s father.
I really did laugh and cry, I also was shocked into gasping a couple of times. It may not stick with me forever, but it was entertaining for a great date night! I found it very interesting that Oprah and Deepak Chopra taught me lessons about how to follow love vs. fear, but I could have learned that while watching “A Bronx Tale” in a plush velvet seat in Carol Morsani Hall for $65+ right here in Tampa!
I like to imagine there was once a conversation that went something like this:
“We have a bunch of talented people performing various dangerous acts. How could we make it more exciting?” “Blades on their feet?”
“Yes… Blades on their feet!” And from that Crystal was born.
Ok, it probably didn’t go like that, but Crystal flawlessly brings everything you love about Cirque to the ice. In the best way possible, there is so much going on during certain scenes that it’s warranted to suggest seeing the show twice in order to appreciate the skills that each artist displays individually. Without giving away too much, I saw an act or two that I had never seen before elsewhere (despite having been to multiple Cirque and wannabe shows) and ALL performances went above and beyond what I’ve seen and expected! The Cirque Du Soleil artists never fail to push their limits. Even the work of the tech crew seems to be mind-boggling difficult and intricate.
Tying these acts together is a lovely storyline that follows the “in her head a little too much” main character, Crystal, and her journey of self-discovery. Each individual act gives more to the plot and, unlike past Cirque shows, are performed to modern pop songs you might recognize!
This cirque show had more costume changes than any other show I’ve ever seen. Some artists made between 3-6 costume changes! Each one was delicately designed for atmospheric context as well as emotional context. Many of the female characters had specially designed costumes that appeared to be skirts but were discreetly pleated shorts to allow the artists to perform. This unique costume design was a detail that allowed them to really transform between characters. In most ice-skating performances there are two designs that a performer wears- a tight body suit or a thin, short skirt. I loved that cirque was able to go above and beyond even in the costume and props departments – some items were only on stage for a few short minutes but helped set the scene.
Despite all the new, the show still reminded me of other Cirque shows. There were some parallels between Crystal that were in Volta as well as the late show Wintuk. Not the same acts, but rather, small details that connected the shows and made me question whether these shows exist in the same universe. There were also some nods to Alice in Wonderland.
Something that I feel gets overlooked often in Cirque show reviews are the clowns. While Crystal only has one true clown (played by Nate Cooper), he did a great job in captivating the audience even before the show began. I was worried that the ice would limit his abilities to interact with both the audience and the characters, but his physical acting helped bring the audience into the atmosphere and made you feel like you were in the story too.