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Reading: Still doing the real-time read of A Discovery of Witches — and finishing up A Queen from the North, an amazing alternate history set in an England where the War of the Roses never ended and a girl from the North is about to marry the Prince of Wales (no, not Charles — the family bloodline also took a different turn). And, amid all this, The Midnight Dance was released, and it’s amazing. Take a look because of the stunning cover, stay for the amazing and unique world-building and the ballet themes.
Watching: Dancing with the Stars, obviously. And wanting to find the time to watch The Walking Dead. I watch it with my husband, usually, and we haven’t been available and able to devote our full attention to it.
Playing: I finished up Bioshock, playing a lot of Stardew Valley.
Doing: Did a major purge of random stuff in the pantry last night, does that count? :p
Planning: NaNoWriMo, Halloween stuff, the usual stuff this time of year.
Writing: Polishing up a bit of The Lion and the Eagle to read at my critique group tomorrow, just like I was the last Weekly Wednesday. At least I’m getting stuff done? Also prepping for an event on Tuesday for the anthology I’m in. 🙂
Reading: Still doing the real-time read of A Discovery of Witches — today is a day off. I’m also reading Metro 2033. I bought the book on Kindle a while ago, but the formatting has major problems (poor paragraph formatting, chapter titles replaced with black bars like on a censored government document, and more) so I ended up returning the Kindle edition and getting the paperback, which is MUCH better. Note: the trailer above is based more on the video game series than the books. In the books, the main character (Artyom) is in the metro with his mother when their station is overcome by rats and is handed over to his foster dad then. Apparently, in the games, his mother never makes it down into the metro in the first place.
Watching: Dancing with the Stars still, of course.
Playing: Yes, I got rid of “listening.” But, since you can “play” music, I can mention it here if needed, or down in “obsessing” so, nothing lost. This is now a video game section, essentially, with a bit of board game stuff every now and then. So, what have I been playing? My husband got the remastered Bioshock collection over the weekend, and I’ve been playing it on “easy mode,” which I don’t usually do. I’m not a huge 1st person shooter player, though, and I’m more interested in the story and world building, so I decided to play on “easy” in order to focus on the story.
Doing: Going to writing events, writing, all the stuff in the other sections.
Planning: Events and fun for NaNoWriMo this year, as well as a bit of stuff related to what I’m writing. I’ll be tackling a bit of the sequel to The Lion and the Eagle, entitled The Bear and the Rising Sun. It covers the war years, which are, of course, very different in this alternate history.
Writing: Polishing up a bit of The Lion and the Eagle to read at my critique group tomorrow.
Ludmila Belousova passed away today at the age of 81. With her husband and skating partner, she won two Olympic gold medals and four World Championships in the 1960’s. They were the first Soviet or Russian pair to win the Olympics, starting the longest streak in Olympic history, in any sport. (Soviet or Russian pairs won every Olympic gold from 1964 through 2006.)
Known for their balletic lines and creativity, the Protopopovs invented variations on the death spiral. Their influence is seen in the sport to this day, although the perfection of their unison is unrivaled, even now.
The Protopopovs eventually defected to Switzerland and became Swiss citizens. They split their time between Switzerland and Lake Placid, New York.
A true inspiration for ageing gracefully and never giving up on your passions, the Protopopovs continued to perform in shows until quite recently, always retaining their beautiful lines and elegance. Every pair competing today could learn a lot about basic skills and presentation from these amazing legends. Their marriage of nearly 60 years is an inspiration to all.
Ludmila’s beauty and grace will be missed, and my thoughts and prayers are with Oleg.
A lovely tribute, including an old interview, can be found here.
Reading: Besides the real-time read of A Discovery of Witches, and I’m enjoying Good Sam (a mystery about someone doing something good for others rather than a murder mystery) and Webs of Power by Darlene Quinn, a novel about the cut throat world of the department store industry in the 1980’s. Even though it’s set in LA and not San Francisco, it makes me miss shopping at the Emporium. Macy’s is just boring by comparison to all the wonderful regional stores, each with their own character, that we lost. I do enjoy Bloomingdales, but even that isn’t the same. I still have a few vintage hats with the old store labels (spent most of the weekend wearing one from Bullocks Wilshire, and I have a leopard print hat from I. Magnin that was my grandmother’s).
Watching: Dancing with the Stars has been fantastic so far. I’m really rooting for Victoria and Val and I’m excited to see what they come up with going forward. Victoria’s story is so amazing and dramatic that, if someone put it into a novel, it would need to be toned down to be “believable.”
Listening: Nothing all that interesting. Should I discontinue this “listening” section? Maybe…
Doing: I just attended the Southern California Writer’s Conference (LA/Irvine 15) over the weekend. It was fantastic.
Planning: A reading of my short story, “Zolota,” from the anthology It’s All in the Story: California. On October 24th, I will be reading the short story at Lit Up Orange County: A Conversation with Readers and Writers.
Writing: Making some changes to On Thin Ice (and its query letter) based on suggestions I got at the conference. I’m also adding a scene to The Lion and the Eagle.
Obsessing Over: Evgenia Medvedeva’s new programs. I’m so excited for the Olympics!
A few weeks ago, I posted the review for Act I here. Just like last time, I will be providing my opinions about the musical with a special focus on historical accuracy.
The opening of Act II is very exciting, and gives a fast and fun introduction to Paris in the 1920’s, complete with cameos from Josephine Baker and Isadora Duncan, among others. I found myself wishing that Josephine Baker was wearing her bananas, and Isadora’s presence threw me a bit (she died about a year before this takes place). Coco Chanel seems a bit too old in her cameo, like a post-war Mademoiselle Chanel rather than a woman in her mid 40s, as she should be here. And yes, I know I’m nitpicking. In fact., this is probably my favorite part of the entire musical, and I wish they had just made a 1920’s musical set in Paris without
Anya’s hair, which I complained about in Act I, is much better here. Very accurate and appropriate for the time period. However, when she is sitting in bed, it is straight again, when in fact women back then did not wash and redo their hair daily. Also, why hasn’t she bobbed her hair in Paris? Either way, long, straight hair worn down isn’t historically accurate.
One major inaccuracy of this act is that the real Dowager Empress never sought out the fakers, in part because she always denied that there was an assassination/execution in the first place. It also makes no sense that she is called “Comrade Maria.” She would still have had all of her titles as a Danish royal, AND her court in exile consider her to still be entitled to the use of her Russian titles, as well. Either way, Empress Marie never gave up thinking her son and grandchildren were alive, but she also never entertained the pretenders who came out of the woodwork to scam the family. And that was definitely for the best. The family angle is actually the worst aspect of what these pretenders did, at least to me. They attempted to play evil tricks on people who had lost so much of their family, constantly targeting surviving members of the Imperial family in an bid to gain fame and wealth.
In real life, the Dowager Empress would be dead by the end of 1928. While she funded Sokolov’s investigation, she did not end up meeting with him, and seeing those claiming to be surviving grandchildren were not her first priority. There was no reward, but a surviving Imperial child would have had rights to the money in the Swiss banks. Reward money is a convenient substitute rather than explaining all that, I suppose. I do find it strange that the Dowager Empress only searches for Anastasia instead of all of the Tsar’s children. Of course, the meta reason behind all that HAS to be the Anna Anderson case, but it still seems thematically odd.
The song “Land of Yesterday” features a nightclub that caters to emigres, called the Neva Club. This song is new for the musical and actually one of the better songs — the newer songs tend to feel fresh, while the ones from the film feel very ’90s in terms of the background music. Next up: a small bugaboo — Lily makes the sign of the cross the Western way (left shoulder first).
Evil Gleb shows up. He makes fun of the emigres for clinging to the “remnants of what they were.” Accurate, yes, but of course, his father put them in that position in the first place.
“The Countess and the Common Man”, another new song, is fantasic and really shows a lot of character development.
The nightmare scene works well to REALLY start hinting that Anya is Anastasia. It is very well done. The next scene, featuring the song “I Never Should Have Let Them Dance,” is beautiful, and the set pieces remind me of the recent Mariinsky Ballet staging of Cinderella.
Anya goes to the ballet, and this scene is very beautiful but strikes me as a bit odd. I wish they had focused more on the music for Swan Lake, without blending in “Once Upon a December” — the two pieces don’t mesh together very well, at least not for me. The medley strikes me as very Tara Lipinski meets Oksana Baiul. Anya’s red dress is beautiful, but it isn’t very 1920’s. It actually feels like a post-New Look sort of gown, like the ones Queen Elizabeth II wore in the ’50s. On a happy note, the blue dress from the film made it into the Broadway production, after being replaced with a pink redesign in the Hartford production.
The gentlemen of the Paris press look very historically accurate, and, like many reporters, they aren’t gentlemen.
The climax with Gleb is much more satisfying that the false villain of Rasputin from the animated film. This is a moment where one fo the Romanovs can confront someone who is very much pro-revolution. She has the opportunity to humanize her family and demonize Gleb’s. This is what the film SHOULD have been, IMO, and it is my absolute favorite change from the original. The ghostly images of the Imperial Family look on as Anastasia confronts Gleb with her identity, even as he threatens her with a gun. Appearance-wise, Empress Alexandra seems particularly well-cast in this scene. Gleb relents. However, I find myself wishing that she had found the gun somehow and shot him instead.
The ending, on the other hand, is odd. At least the film had Anya promise to return one day, but this version just seems sad. Anastasia and her grandmother were barely reunited before she deserted her grandmother to elope, and this ending ultimately leaves me wanting more closure.
Overall, though, I do prefer the Broadway version to the film. Much more historically accurate, and the set pieces are amazing!
Reading: Charade by Sandra Brown. It’s a re-release of one of her thrillers from the ’90s, and she has definitely grown as a writer since then. It’s still very riveting, however, and is about a heart transplant recipient who is the target of a murderer. I just finished Libba Bray’s The Diviners, which was fantastic. I’ll be reading the sequel soon to get ready for the final book next month. I’m also doing the real-time read of A Discovery of Witches, and I’m picking up a lot of the foreshadowing the second time around. This real-time read is really a master class in how to execute foreshadowing.
Watching: America’s Got Talent. I’m dreading the results show tonight because there are so many amazing acts that I would love to see win, and of course only one million dollar contract to be awarded. Dancing with the Stars also just started up for their 25th season (goodness, that makes me feel old, even when I remind myself that they do two a year), and I am enjoying this season’s cast. This time around, no one seems to have a decided advantage over the rest, and I can’t wait to see how they grow as dancers over the course of the season.
Listening: The usual stuff on the radio — nothing too exciting.
Doing: Getting ready for the Southern California Writer’s Conference this weekend. Printing stuff out like crazy, prepping my laptop bag, all that good stuff.
Planning: I have all my workshops, etc, all mapped out, and I’m excited for the conference. Outfit planning as well, of course.
Writing: Editing The Lion and the Eagle, querying On Thin Ice. Writing sales letters for the anthology (California: It’s All in the Story).
Obsessing Over: The fan theory that Jay Gatsby is really Jack from Titanic. My husband’s theory? He sold the Heart of the Ocean and stole it back, then willed it to Rose. My theory — if that’s true, then she lied about it all those years. Hubby says that’s why she had to throw the diamond overboard. I think she lied about Jack’s death, if this is all true, making her the most unreliable narrator in the history of mankind. 😛
So, this week’s Monarchy Monday has been abruptly changed by the fan-release of the musical Anastasia on YouTube (complete with a funny video title declaring that it definitely WASN’T a video of the Broadway show). It seems to have been taken down now, and what was posted wasn’t the Broadway version but the pre-Broadway version performed in Hartford, Connecticut. Some changes, including costuming, have occurred since, but I can only comment on what I am able to compare online to what I saw last night, before the video was taken down. Other versions may pop up, now that it is “out there” on the internet.
A few thoughts before we begin. First of all, the 1997 film of Anastasia was what got me interested in the Romanovs (and Russia) in the first place. Of course, as an adult — and even as a child, truthfully, because my mom had a lot of ranting to do when the film came out — I know that the film has a LOT of issues with historical accuracy. I view it — and the musical it inspired — with both a critical eye and a heaping dose of nostalgia. However, ultimately, telling the stories of real historical people — human beings who lived and breathed — needs to be done with an eye toward accuracy and respect, especially when those people are considered canonized saints by millions of people.
This week will cover the general premise of the musical, focusing mainly on Act I. I took quite a few notes as I watched, and I have notes for Act II, but I plan to cover Act II next week, in order to prevent this from being a VERY long post.
Please note that I have not seen the 1997 animated film in a very long time.
Please also note that this review will be filled with spoilers and the like. This is your final SPOILER WARNING! I will be spoiling more than just Act I here, as I will be referencing the fact that “Anya” is the real Grand Duchess Anastasia from the very beginning.
Dancing ghosts…pretty sets…history that doesn’t pass muster…
The show opens with six-year-old Anastasia (and only Anastasia) saying goodbye to her paternal Grandmother, Dowager Empress Maria, who is moving to Paris. Right there is the first big helping of historical inaccuracy. While the Dowager Empress didn’t have a big role in the real Grand Duchess Anastasia’s life, it had more to do with the court rivalry between the Dowager Empress and Anastasia’s mother, Empress Alexandra, than it did with this fictional move to Paris. In Russia, the Dowager Empress retained a higher “precedence” in the Russia court, much to the dismay of the current Empress, who was accustomed to the British order of precedence, as used in the court of her grandmother, Queen Victoria. Aside from this, Alexandra and her mother-in-law had very different outlooks on life, as well as personal and religious values. The Dowager Empress was much younger than she appears here, and enjoyed parties and the rest of the Petersburg social scene, which the devout Alexandra decidedly did NOT.
Even so, the Dowager Empress remained in Petersburg — after all, she had many friends, almost to the point of having a rival court. During the Revolution, she was able to escape to the Crimea, still part of the Russian Empire and not yet controlled by the revolutionaries. Until 1919, she would refuse to leave Russia and indeed did not leave until practically begged to do so by her sister, Alexandra, herself the Dowager Queen of England. (Yes, there are a lot of Marias and Alexandras. Sorry about that.) She would go, along with her daughter, Olga, to Malta and later the UK, to spend time with her sister, before returning to her native Denmark, where she would live out the rest of her life before passing away at the age of 80 in 1928. However, that is all in the future at this point in the play.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that Anastasia was ever her grandmother’s favorite grandchild, as this play constantly hints (to an even greater degree than the movie did. Also, if Anastasia is in her bedroom, where is her sister, Maria, her closest friend in the family, with whom she shared a room?
The story takes an awkward transition to 1917, when Anastasia is now 17 and there is a ball, seemingly, based on hints later in the play, at the Yusupov Palace. There were no Imperial Balls held during the war, as Petersburg society maintained at least the appearance of wartime austerity. In fact, due to the war, Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia never made their “debuts.” Therefore, even if there HAD been a ball that night, they would not have been allowed to come (nor would their brother, Alexei,. Also, in 1917, the Yusupov family was not in the good graces of the Tsar and his family, having been influential in killing their dear friend, the holy man Rasputin.
As the family dances at the ball, they are lined up for a photo, which is reminiscent of several of the theatrical and film reconstructions of their death, where (false) legend states that they were told that they were being taken to the basement where they were eventually shot using the excuse of taking photos before leaving on a journey. There is no evidence that the photography excuse was ever used, and the first reference of it comes from an author known to embellish his work. However, this is one of the interesting things about this musical — they really play with reality. Here they have little hints that come close to what actually happened, and later, the Ipatiev house, where they were killed, is mentioned by name, but then they also show the palace being stormed by revolutionaries with the Imperial family still there. In reality, the Tsar was away from his family, on his way home from the war front to the capital, when his train was stopped and he was essentially bullied into signing abdication papers. They were kept under house arrest in their home, the Alexander Palace, before being moved to Tobolsk and later Yekaterinburg, where they were shot in the basement of the Ipatiev house the night of 17/18 July, 1918.
And a song, the cast sings…now with more Communism…
The musical skips ahead in time again, this time to 1928. St. Petersburg is now Leningrad, and the musical is much more clear about that then the original film was. Even so, they didn’t clear up falsely calling Anastasia a “princess.” Two men, a con-man named Dimitri and a former member of the Imperial court named Vlad, have found the Grand Duchess’ music box and are looking for an actress to play her, so they can claim reward money for finding her and bringing her to her grandmother, in Paris. They are about to give up, when a street sweeper named Anya arrives, asking to go to Paris. She remembers being in the Yusopov palace, where Dimitri and Vlad have set up shop, and they are convinced that she is the girl for the job.
Meanwhile, Gleb Vaganov, the son of a high up Communist who embraces his father’s ideology and is now in a position of power himself, warns Dimitri, Vlad, and Anya not to continue with their plan of impersonating the Grand Duchess. Gleb is one of the best changes from the film, I think. Rasputin is no longer the villain here, and is, in fact, not mentioned at all. Instead, the musical shows the changes in Russia, and the difficulties that people experience under Communist rule. Even though Gleb is a fictional character, there are aspects of his personality that call to mind real Soviet leaders of the period without having to bend the history of a real character too much.
In general, the sets and costumes feel very realistic, although “Anya” often has hair that doesn’t feel right for the time period. While Soviet women in the 1920’s did not wear the glamorous styles seen in the West, they didn’t wear long, straight hair, either. Anya often looks like a modern woman dressed in old clothes. A more realistic style for Anya would be with her hair styled up, or covered with a scarf, as seen with the women in scene where Gleb sings “A Simple Thing.” They could have covered her hair with a scarf, which could have been easily removed for the later scenes, where Anya is being trained by Dimitri and Vlad and is wearing better clothes.
Anya’s name — a nickname for “Anna,” rather than Anastasia (would be “Nastya”) — calls to mind the famous Anna Anderson case, which is the whole reason that people typically think of Anastasia as having survived, more than any other member of the family. Of course, DNA evidence has now proven that they all died that night, but that was considered an open question by many for decades. Various people made claims to be various members of the Romanov family, but the claim of a woman known as Anna Anderson was the most widely covered in the press and the most widely believed. She insisted that she was the Grand Duchess for over 60 years, but DNA later proved her to be a Polish factory worker. For more about her story and the effect it had on the media, etc, I recommend Resurection of the Romanovs by Greg King and Penny Wilson. They really break down the case and discuss WHY people believed her and the effects of that belief.
In some ways, this production is VERY accurate, with beautiful sets and many details that are spot on. For example, the real Anastasia was a prankster, and was indeed born at Peterhof, a “palace by the sea.” The count who is persecuted for his noble status during the traveling scene is also a very accurate, if sad, occurrence. The feel of the settings and people is much more realistic than the film, I think. However, a few things would have helped with that. Personally, the American accent, especially on Anya/Anastasia, felt out of place. Anastasia’s English was, in real life, much more British, due to her mother’s influence, and hearing her sound like not only an American but a very MODERN American, makes me struggle with suspension of disbelief more than I would like to. Other nitpicky things include Gleb calling Anya not just by her first name alone (which is reserved for friends in Russia) but by a nickname.
The train and traveling scenes are particularly well executed, however. The train itself is very simple, so that the audience can easily see inside, but it still has an old fashioned feel to it, and allows for much more interesting dance numbers (which is good — 3-4 songs are performed on and around the train). These scenes really do feel like Anya et al are moving, and the backdrop with projected moving images, while a well known Hollywood trick, is effective here. The map with Cyrillic writing is also a nice touch of authenticity as the first act comes to a close.
Over all, I think the musical is an improvement over the film, especially when it comes to issues of accuracy. The new songs fit well with the over all feel of the production, and the sets, props, and costumes are all VERY well done, for the most part. Join me next week, when I discuss the second act. Will the improvements continue into Act II?
Reading: Ross Poldark, still — it’s very good. Finished up Victorian Secrets by Sarah Chrisman, the story of a modern woman who learns to love corsets. Essential reading for anyone writing Victorian or Edwardian historical fiction, because it clears up a lot of misconceptions about corsets. Also reading The Radium Girls, the story of the young ladies who painted glow in the dark watch and instrument dials 100 years ago — many of them died from ingesting the radioactive paint when they would shape and moisten the brushes with their lips.
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Doing: Had a very fun weekend — an evening at Musso and Frank Grill in Hollywood, where the stars of old Hollywood used to hang out. We had Frank Sinatra’s old table, and it was fantastic. So many fantastic stories, all while dining on the original Alfredo recipe that Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks brought back from their honeymoon. Then we went to the Hollywood Bowl to see the 1812 Overture with fireworks, which was fantastic.