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!