The national tour of “Anastasia” at the Golden Gate Theatre features the funny Edward Staudenmayer as Vlad and Tari Kelly as Countless Lily, center, and an excellent ensemble. (Courtesy Matthew Murphy/Murphymade)

Sumptuous ‘Anastasia’ retells historical myth

National tour boasts great sets and supporting characters

Two men plot to pass off a poor girl from the streets as a noble lady. There’s a prize to be won, a song-and-dance when their pupil seems to have got it, a fancy society event at which the ersatz princess meets a true dowager, and late in the show, a lusty ode to a lost way of life.

With a little bit of luck it could be “My Fair Lady.” Instead, all of those “Pygmalion” plot points take place in “Anastasia,” the Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical onstage at the Golden Gate Theatre.

For decades Anastasia was rumored to have survived the 1918 assassination of her family, the last of the Romanov dynasty, and wandered Europe as an amnesiac. Science ended the myth in 2007, but the tragic fable has been inspiring storytellers for a century, most notably in a play by Marcelle Maurette that begat a 1956 film adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner and Helen Hayes, and a 1965 Broadway musical adaptation called “Anya.”

This version, by the team who wrote “Ragtime,” is based on their 1997 animated film, a 20th Century-Fox challenge to the Disney musical machine. By its 2017 Broadway opening, it gained a book by Terrence McNally, Darko Tresnjak as director, and choreography by Peggy Hickey.

The tour is a pleasant enough evening with a troika of leads that work hard but fail to make a real connection.

As the title character, Lila Coogan leads with spunk and an overly hard-edged voice that keeps her from establishing a heart for the show until the end. Stephen Brower is Dmitry, her proletariat Henry Higgins who channels a lot of earnest puppy appeal but little heat. Jason Michael Evans, on the other hand, is the darkly smoldering comrade Gleb who wants to woo and possibly destroy Anya. The strongest singer of the three, his performance suffers from too much stock angst.

The real stars are the second leads, hard-working ensemble, and the sets.

As the other con man Vlad, Edward Staudenmayer bubbles with bravado, drollery, enthusiasm, agility and the best-ever use of hair as a prop. He is well met in Tari Kelly as Countess Lily, a former flame who is a master of comic buffoonery in the Carol Burnett class. Together they breathe much needed life in the Act 2 and literally stop the show.

Kudos are also due designer Alexander Dodge, who creates a wonderfully versatile canvas on which Aaron Rhyme paints captivating, projected settings that truly move patrons — even when the action in front of them moves only the aspiring princesses in the audience on a family-friendly night on the town.

REVIEW

Anastasia

Presented by SHN

Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 29

Tickets: $56 to $226

Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

Theater

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