‘Anastasia’ highlighted by stagecraft, costumes, comedy

[Woody’s Rating: ★★½☆☆

National touring company surrounds Lila Coogan (Anya) in front of moving “Anastasia” projections. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, Murphymade.

If you love five-star stagecraft, as I do, you’ll adore the musical version of the “Anastasia” fairytale at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre.

Spectacular is too piddling a word to describe it.

And if you relish spectacular projections and costumes, as I do, you’ll love the touring company of “Anastasia” even more.

Furthermore, if you treasure over-the-top comedic moments (especially choreography that mocks sexual lust), as I do, you’ll cherish the show at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre even more than even more.

But if you’re looking for storyline depth and sizzling chemistry between the main actors, as I do, you’re apt to be disappointed.

As for the music, the non-sung-through pop-opera features an astounding large number of tunes — 31.  But no one walked out singing, humming or whistling the score by Stephen Flaherty or lyrics of his frequent collaborator, Lynn Ahrens.

The book, to inform folks who haven’t seen any of the umpteen film or video renditions previously produced, is from Our Heroine’s point of view in 1927 Leningrad and Paris. It’s penned by Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally (who did better with “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “The Master Class” and the librettos for “Ragtime” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman”).

Lila Coogan (Anya) and Stephen Brower (Dmitry) work toward turning a fairy-tale into a reality in “Anastasia.” Photo by Evan Zimmerman, Murphymade.

In this predictable outing, amnesiac Anya/Anastasia (Lila Coogan) is vigorously pursued by Gleb (Jason Michael Evans), a Communist official hell bent (at first) on stilling her voice, but gets help in her identity quest from two con men, the ultra-serious Dimitry (Stephen Brower) — whom she falls for, of course — and his comic buddy, Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer).

All of them do well with vim and voice.

But Tari Kelly steals and stops the show, in that hilarious non-salacious duet with Staudenmayer, “The Countess and the Common Man.”

“Anastasia,” which my subconscious sporadically wanted to dub “Anasthesia,” is a long show — 150 minutes (including intermission) — emphasizing that history needn’t repeat itself, that people can look forward rather than be glued to a rear-view mirror.

And that a happily-ever-after ending is possible.

A happy new beginning, on the other hand, is obvious when going to the SHN theater. Old show posters artistically cover the walls leading to the box office. And, even more importantly, the street has been cleared of homeless and addicts.

Some describe the musical’s epic narrative as a romantic thriller, a fiction based on a real-life family, but I didn’t let the facts get in the way of my enjoyment — especially the detail that a dozen years ago DNA proved the princess actually was murdered by secret police along with the rest of her royal Romanov kin.

My entrée into a parallel Anastasia universe came via 1963’s “Tovarich” on Broadway, for which Vivien Leigh won a Tony despite the fact that she couldn’t sing worth a damn (I left after the first act).

Should you have doubts, I did stay for the entirety for this San Francisco production of “Anastasia.”

My son, an anti-romantic, undoubtedly would loathe the show. I, in contrast, loved its lovable parts. As did my wife. As did the vast majority of the raucously cheering, applauding opening night audience.

“Anastasia” will run at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St. (at Market), San Francisco, through Sept. 29. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $56 to $256 (subject to change). Information: (888) 746-1799 or shnsf.com.

Contact Woody Weingarten, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, at www.vitalitypress.com/or voodee@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →