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Monarchy Monday: Definitely Not a Review of Anastasia on Broadway (Act II)

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!

Monarchy Monday: Royal Baby News!

Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the upcoming birth of their third child!

Here are a few news links for you to enjoy:


Everything we know so far from Cheatsheet

To find out what the bookies are expecting the new baby to be named, go HERE

And of course, the rest of my review on Broadway’s Anastasia will continue next week.

Monarchy Monday: Definitely Not a Review of Anastasia on Broadway (Act I)

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?

Continued here

Monarchy Monday: Total Eclipse Edition

Sometimes, even Sir Issac Newton got things wrong. He predicted that the eclipse was a sign from the heavens that the ailing Henry I would not die. History had something else to say…

Monarchy Monday: More of the Crown, coming soon

With The Crown Season 2 coming in December, I will be finishing up my Behind the Crown series here on my blog.  But, for now, here’s a look at the next season of the show…

Monarchy Monday: Oldest Royal Video

I’m crazy busy today, so I’ll give you this little tidbit.  It’s the oldest known footage of the British royal family, and also includes footage of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Empress Alexandra.  Filmed in 1896, it shows the Tsar’s visit to the UK.

Without further ado, I give you…Queen Victoria on video.

Monarchy Monday: This Post is Unspeakable in Thailand

Ananda Mahidol, also known as King Rama VIII, is a controversial and mysterious figure in Thailand, even now, over 70 years after his death.  He became King as a young boy, living in Switzerland to study, and did not come to live in Thailand until after World War II.  In June of 1946, his death by gunshot wound shocked everyone — even to this day, it has not been determined who fired the fatal shot.

Initially, it was thought that the King shot himself by accident, perhaps when cleaning his gun.  However, it was later determined that his death was either murder or suicide.  It appears that suicide is unlikely — the gun was found in the King’s non-dominant hand.  However, there are many theories as to who may have murdered the 20-year-old monarch.  Even the possibility that the King was accidentally — or deliberately — shot by his younger brother has been put forward.

I don’t know what I believe to be true.

However, what we do know is that even 70+ years later, it is not something that can be openly discussed in Thailand, even after so many years — and after three men were executed (perhaps unjustly) for the murder.



Monarchy Monday: Why Japan’s Princess Mako is Giving Up Her Title

Princess Mako of Japan will be giving up her title when she marries a commoner.  That much, the media has correct.  But what the Western media hasn’t covered, and probably isn’t even aware of, is that there is virtually no way for a Japanese princess to marry and retain her title.

Prior to the end of WWII and the Imperial Household Law of 1947, the Japanese Imperial Family was much larger.  They, like the British royals, had a large extended family who could inherit the throne and also a large aristocracy.  Back then, if a princess were to marry a nobleman, she would remain a princess.  However, after the war, the nobility was abolished and the Imperial Household streamlined.  Now, there are no nobles to marry, and no way for a princess to retain her title.

In Princess Mako’s case, however, her fiance is not part of the former nobility, and she would have lost her title either way.


Monarchy Monday: Behind the Crown, Season 1, Episode 2

And so the examination of the accuracy of Netflix’s hit show The Crown begins again with the second episode, “Hide Park Corner.”

As always, SPOILERS  abound in this post.  Spoilers for later episodes will be marked with further warnings.

Note: I will refer to the Queen as “Princess Elizabeth” when referencing events before she ascended to the throne.

This episode is stuffed full of historical detail, and most of it is quite accurate.  I really do applaud the writers of The Crown for just how close to the mark they are.


-The Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) really did have to take her ailing father’s place on the Commonwealth Tour.  And her father really did brave the cold to see her off, and some say that this contributed to his death, just five days later.

-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip really did stay at a treehouse hotel in Kenya, and she was there when she became Queen.  A big game hunter wrote in his log book, “for the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into the tree as a princess and climbed down as a queen.”

-The red government dispatch boxes are real.  And Churchill really did dictate from the bathtub — his secretary really did sit just outside the closed door.

-The King was discovered dead in bed by a servant.

-The episode’s title “Hide Park Corner” really was the secret government code to spread word of the King’s death.

-Churchill and Queen Mary were the first people outside of Sandringham House (the estate where the King died) and the royal household staff to be notified.

-Princess Elizabeth really was a mechanic during the war (although I’ve never seen any claims that she had to repair a Jeep in Kenya).

-The new Queen really was difficult to contact, due to the remote nature of Treetops.  Word is relayed to Sagana Lodge, and Prince Philip breaks the news to his wife.

-The Queen really was asked what name she would take as Queen.

-The new Queen returned to England immediately after finding out about her father’s passing, as seen in the above video.

-SPOILERS FOR LATER EPISODES in the article. The Queen really did want to keep the private secretary who had served her before her ascension, but was discouraged from doing so for political reasons.

-Churchill’s speech eulogizing the King is a bit summarized and a few words are changed, but is largely accurate, with direct quotes used in the show.


-SPOILERS FOR LATER EPISODES in the article.  Venetia Scott is a completely fictional character.

-There is no evidence that Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip got so very close to charging elephants or that they were ever any danger from the Kenya wildlife.  I’m filing this under “false” instead of “unknown,” because it appears to have been made up for the sake of drama on the show.


-The King went shooting the day before he died with his friend Lord Fermoy, not with his doctor.  He spent the day playing with Prince Charles and Princess Anne and had dinner with Princess Margaret.  There’s no evidence of him singing while she played piano, however.

-There were concerns about Churchill’s age and ability to govern. It is unclear how soon these concerns became widespread within the Conservative Party, however.


-The exact nature of the King’s conversations with his doctors is, of course, unknown.  Did the doctor dismiss any concern about the King’s health as being just due to “age” rather than lung cancer, etc?  Or was he bluntly honest with his patient about the coughing and any other symptoms?  No one knows.

-The exact details of events at Sandringham after the King’s death are unknown.  I HIGHLY doubt that Princess Margaret was present of part of the embalming, however.

-Speaking of Princess Margaret, it is also unknown when her relationship with Peter Townsend began.  There is no known evidence of them sneaking around at Sandringham at this time, but it did add drama to the episode.

-The letter from Queen Mary to her granddaughter, the new Queen Elizabeth, is likely fictionalized or entirely fabricated.

-Queen Mary’s dramatic curtsy at the end of the episode may or may not have occured.


-Front page news and primary source articles on the King’s death:

New York Times

The Sunday Graphic


Monarchy Monday: Behind THE CROWN Episode 1

This is the first in a series about The Crown on Netflix.

It is an impressive show, and an entertaining one at that.  But how accurate it is?

This series will go through Season 1 of The Crown, episode by episode, and talk about the details.  What’s true?  What’s false?  What’s completely unknown?

And so, we begin with Episode 1: Wolferton Splash.

Of course, spoilers will abound.


-The Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) and Prince Phillip were really very much in love, and got married a good deal of sentiment against him in royal circles.  For more about this, Netflix has a great documentary about Phillip, called “Prince Phillip: The Plot to Make a King.”  However, for all Louis Mountbatten’s scheming, they did really fall in love.

-King George VI was a heavy smoker, made worse by the stress of the war, and he really was diagnosed with a tumor in 1951.  And yes, he really did have an operation in Buckingham Palace.  His eldest daughter did have to take his place on the Commonwealth Tour.  He really did go to the airport to see her off, as seen in the video below.

-The King’s stammer, dramatized in The King’s Speech, was a very real thing.

-The King’s love of dirty limericks was also a very real thing.  The actual ones used in The Crown, however, were chosen by the production staff.

-Prince Phillip really did have to give up his Greek and Danish titles to marry Princess Elizabeth.  He was given the title Duke of Edinburgh but was no longer, properly speaking, a prince — at least not until Elizabeth gave him the title of Prince after she became queen.


-Prince Charles and Princess Anne are shown in Malta with their parents while their father was stationed there.  In reality, they remained in the UK with their grandparents.  Here are some photos and info about Princess Elizabeth visiting her husband at his post.


-Was the King really coughing up blood as early as 1947?  Probably false, but I’m being nice and putting this in the unknown category.

-I can’t find any confirmation of his wearing makeup to meet with Churchill, either.

-It’s also unknown when various people became aware of the true nature of the King’s illness, etc.  Of course, the writers need to fill in these gaps for the audience and so it should not be considered an inaccuracy, but rather a needed fabrication in order to have a detailed show that flows properly.

-Similarly, while we know that Princess Margaret met Peter Townsend when she was a teenager, we aren’t sure when their affair began.  We do know that it became public AFTER Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, but more on that later.

-And, of course, much remains unknown about the relationship between the King and his son-in-law.


-Here’s an article about the great pains that were taken to keep the show as accurate as possible.