“It’s a show about family love and togetherness,” says actor Bryan Seastrom about his favorite Broadway musical. “It’s about trying to find where you belong and who you belong with.”
He’s talking about “Anastasia,” the story of a young woman who sets out to discover the mystery of her past. The national tour comes to the Schuster Center Tuesday, March 21 through Sunday, March 26.
The musical opened on Broadway in 2017 and features a book by five-time Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally. The show, based on the animated film of the same name, has music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.
Over the years, the mystique of Anastasia has inspired a variety of retellings including the 1956 film starring Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner and Helen Hayes and the 1997 animation with Meg Ryan voicing Anastasia and also starring Angela Lansbury, John Cusack and Kelsey Grammer.
The plot, set in the early 1900s, is based on the real-life Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, who some believed might have survived the execution of her family during the Russian Revolution. In the musical an orphan named Anya who is suffering from amnesia, hopes to find some trace of her family by siding with two con men who wish to take advantage of her likeness to the Grand Duchess and hope to profit by her return to her grandmother.
Credit: Evan Zimmerman
Credit: Evan Zimmerman
You’ll recognize some songs from the film and there are 16 new numbers as well. The musical also introduces a new villain called Gleb, a general for the Bolsheviks who receives orders to kill Anastasia.
In recent years, although DNA evidence has refuted the idea that Anastasia survived, the story and its themes – the struggle to reclaim one’s identity, the allure of the past and the power of hope and resilience – continue to resonate with audiences. So do the songs, the lavish costumes and sets.
After watching the song “Journey to the Past” on You Tube, one reader shared: “I was born in Russia as a baby and was adopted and grew up in the USA and this song is literally so true for me because I’ve wanted to find my birth family for so long. Every time I hear this song I get so emotional. I may not be a princess (I mean I don’t know that I’m not lol) but this story is pretty much the same story as mine.”
Brian Seastrom plays Vlad
“I provide the comic relief of the show,” explains Seastrom, who says Vlad is part of a con men duo. “He was a banished member of the royal court and wants to get back to Paris and his ex-lover. He knows about royalty and teaches Anastasia how to be a princess and about the royal family. It’s a little bit of a fairy tale and very ‘My Fair Lady.’”
Credit: Evan Zimmerman
Credit: Evan Zimmerman
Seastrom says his role is highly physical, exciting and lots of fun.
“He brings comedy and lightheartedness to the show so I do a lot of dancing and I connect most with the audience,” he says. " Vlad is cheeky, naughty with a good heart and a well-rounded gentleman. He’s a nuanced character with more purpose and backstory than he had in the musical.”
Anya, he says, is looking for home, love and family. “But it’s not just her story,” explains Seastrom. “Every one of the characters in the show is looking for the same thing in whatever form that takes. They are looking for a sense of belonging, someone to love who will love them. In the process of helping Anya find her real family, the three of them create their own little family. They come from different backgrounds and have to learn to work together. "
Seastrom says in the show’s context the con men – Vlad and Dimitri – aren’t really the bad guys. “They’re not perfect but there’s a humanity about them,” he notes. “In the beginning, you look at them as opportunists who do whatever they can to survive – stealing, trickery. But they look out for each other and for people other than themselves. Our director says each one of the men in the show becomes better because of Anya. She has a positive influence on them, particularly Vlad and Dimitri.”
Seastrom, a Los Angeles native who now lives in New Jersey, has been performing professionally for 20 years and loves to travel. He worked with the Disney Cruise line and has toured with “Anastasia” since the national tour began in Sept. of 2021.
“I have always loved making people laugh and smile,” he says. “My life purpose is to use what I do to bring joy to people.”
“‘Sesame Street’ was a major influence. I enjoyed the way Jim Henson and the Muppets would entertain to tell a story and make you laugh and learn at the same time,” he recalls. “I never grew out of the puppetry thing. With voice-over in puppets it doesn’t matter what you look like, your age or gender.”
Seastrom, who has designed puppets with a friend who worked with Henson Studios, created an outdoor adventure series, “Bryan’s Backyard.” It’s available on YouTube and Instagram and he hopes to get back to it at some point.
Meanwhile, he’s hoping folks will come to “Anastasia” with someone they love. “It’s a bonding experience,” he believes. “You’ll identify with someone on stage. Each character will be someone’s favorite.”
HOW TO GO
What: “Anastasia” the Broadway musical, presented by Dayton Live
When: Tuesday, March 21 through Sunday, March 26.
Where: Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton
Tickets: Priced at $26 and up. Available online at daytonlive.org/anastasia, by phone at (937) 28-3630, or in person at the Dayton Live Box Office, located in the Wintergarden of the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center.
Participants ages 10-18 will work with local theater professionals, artists, and “Anastasia” company members (when possible) in sessions filled with the music, dance, and scene work from this musical. The work will culminate in an “Informance” for family and friends on the final day of the intensive. Participants will receive show merchandise, nightly dinner, and a ticket to the Thursday evening performance. The After-School Intensive meets from 4:30 – 8 p.m. Monday, March 20 – Friday, March 24 at the PNC Arts Annex. Cost is $249.
Registration at daytonlive.org/after-school-intensive-anastasia/
Background on Broadway
Sixty minutes before each performance you’ll learn about the development, history, and artistry of the show. This free event is held in the Schuster Center’s 4th Floor Lobby. You must have a ticket to that day’s performance.
Bagels on Broadway
Ever wonder what it takes to prepare a stage for a show? From 8:30-10:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 21, have a cup of coffee and a bagel, then watch the show’s crew and members of IATSE Local 66 set up. The event is free but you must register: https://my.daytonlive.org/9235/9236
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