After delay, crowded audience responds enthusiastically to ‘Anastasia’ at USU

Utah State opera singers share a joyous moment as they perform the song 'Learn to Do It' during the presentation of 'Anastasia' on Friday, Nov. 10. They are (from left) Holden Smith, Madison Black and Caden Webb (Image courtesy of Facebook).

LOGAN – They held the curtain of the Nov. 10 performance of the musical Anastasia for more than 20 minutes, while the USU Opera Program tried to shoehorn the largest crowd I’ve ever seen into the Morgan Theatre.

The production was well worth the wait, however.

The mostly young audience members greeted the outstanding performance that followed that delay with enthusiastic applause and cheers throughout, plus a spontaneous standing ovation for the curtain call.

The superb cast assembled by opera professor Dallas Aksoy and guest director Stefan Espinosa earned all that acclaim and more.

Based by the 1997 animated film by Don Bluth, Anastasia features music and lyrics by the renowned composing team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, whose previous Broadway hits have included the musicals Once Upon This Island and Suessical, among others.

The musical breathes life into legend of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, who was rumored to have escaped the execution of her family following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

Madison Black was enchanting in the title role, as the orphan Anya who teams up with two con men to travel from Leningrad to Paris to hopefully win the love of her only surviving kin.

While this musical was apparently chosen to provide a challenge for the USU opera students, Ms. Black made performing the role of Anya look easy, as she seemed to effortlessly sing solos, duets and also lent her strong voice to several ensemble production numbers.

Ms. Black performed opposite Holden Smith and Caden Webb as her “guardian angel” con men, Dmitry and Vlad. The voices of Ms. Black and Smith blended sweetly in the love duet “In a Crowd of Thousands.”

Webb was amusing throughout, but was particularly funny while trying to rekindle the flame of an old romance with the Countess Lily, played to saucy perfection by Karin Burgoyne. Their duet — “The Countess and the Common Man” — is an absolute hoot.

Grace Hanni did a memorable turn as the Anya’s last surviving relative, the Dowager Empress. In the role of Russian agent Gleb, Sam Tuescher was equally impressive, as was Maribelle Taylor, who performed a striking solo as Countess Ipolitov.

Kudos to the entire production team of Anastasia, especially wardrobe manager Michelle Bradford for the brilliant contrast in costumes from the drabness of Russia to the dazzling glitz of Paris.

USU’s projection wizard Daniel Francis also did an amazing job digitally recreating the splendor of the Romanov palaces and glamor of Paris in the 1920s.

The only weakness of the show worth mentioning was the less-than precise choreography of some of the production numbers. The exception to that was Kenna Ford performing flawlessly as Odette in a Swan Lake vignette.

Member of the show’s ensemble who performed multiple roles and brilliant choral work were Allison Johnston, Amelia Kearl, Ben Shaw, Carissa Olson Crowton, Carson Linder, Claire Francis, Emma Colburn, Emma Dombroski, Emma Fox, Erica Harvey, Johnny Richardson, Kae Ra Davis, Kate Wilson, Lauren Tougas, Lily Takemoto, Madelyn Hamilton, Maribelle Taylor and Simon Johnson.

Under the director of Ms. Aksoy, the score of Anastasia was well-performed by Rebecca Olpin on flute, Hillary Callister on clarinet, Weston Stuart on Bassoon, EmmaRose Santa Maria on horn, Luke Halling on trumpet, DJ Combs on Trombone, Luis Herring on percussion, Amelia Guertler on violin, Ryn Haubner-Sheridan on Viola, Nathan Guertler on cello, Emma Barker on bass and Rebecca Anderson on harp/keyboards.

Espinosa and Ms. Aksoy double-cast some of the principal roles in Anastasia. In the show’s two remaining performances, the part of Anya will be played by Abigail Geertsen, while Maiya Lloyd will play the Dowager Empress and Rachel Hall will appear as the Countess Lily.

Another evening performance of Anastasia is slated for 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 13.

An unusual late matinee is also slated for 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12.

All performances of Anastasia will be staged in the Morgan Theatre in the Chase Fine Arts Center on the campus of USU.

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