Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia, and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. She was murdered at the age of 17 with her family by a group of Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918—or was she?
Rumors of her possible escape circulated after her death, rumors that fueled several plays and movies, including the 1997 animated musical “Anastasia.” The film is a loose adaptation of the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. Its basic plot centers around an eighteen-year-old amnesiac orphan named Anya who hopes to trace her family and falls in with con men who try and take advantage of her likeness to Anastasia.
Fast forward 20 years to Broadway, where a new musical, “Anastasia,” opened in April of 2017 and ran for two years until closing last March. The show is based on the animated version and retains a handful of the original songs, plus more penned by the team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, with a revised book by noted playwright Terrence McNally.
Dubbed “one of the most gorgeous shows in years” by the New York Observer, “Anastasia” transports audiences from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of a dashing conman and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love and family.
A Broadway touring production was launched last year, and comes to Segerstrom Center for the Arts Nov. 5 through 17.
One of the cast members in the touring production, Sareen Tchekmedyian, was born and raised in Huntington Beach. A classically trained ballet dancer, Sareen previously danced with Sarasota Ballet, where she performed featured roles in ballets by world renowned choreographers. Sareen began her ballet training at Southland Ballet Academy and continued her pre-professional training when she joined Houston Ballet II in 2009.
Sareen has always admired Broadway shows and has dreamed of using her voice on stage one day. Anastasia marks her debut in musical theatre and she could not be more thrilled. She understudies the role of Odette, a dancer who appears in the second half of the show. She also has the difficult task of being a swing, which means she covers seven different ensemble dancers in the show and has to be ready to go on at a moment’s notice for any of those roles.
Growing up in Orange County, Sareen, 26, saw numerous dance and musical performances at Segerstrom Center.
“I had always hoped to be on stage there one day, so it’s going to be surreal when the show comes to Costa Mesa,” said Sareen, who added that her family and friends already have their tickets to the show. In fact, she’ll be living at her parent’s house in Huntington Beach while the show is in town.
“I grew up loving musical theater but danced in ballet companies. I got to a point in my career where I was ready to move on as an artist and do something less grueling on my body,” she said. “It forced me to take the lead so I went to New York, did auditions, heard about Anastasia, heard it had ballet in it and that they were looking for someone who could do ballet and sing. I went to every open call for the show, and finally got the part.”
Sareen said the touring life took some getting used to.
“It has been really fun, it’s a totally crazy lifestyle but the theater world has been so welcoming, and so warm and friendly. For me it has been awesome, exploring and getting to perform in different theaters, but my sense of normalcy is thrown off.”
Sareen says that Segerstrom Center audiences are in for a real treat with “Anastasia.”
“We’ve had great audience reaction,” confirmed Sareen. “The musical is more geared towards adults but it’s still good for all ages. They added many cinematic elements, and a new antagonist. It’s still beautiful and whimsical. Be prepared to feel a lot of emotions, to be touched. You’ll also laugh a lot. Get ready for a full journey. The costumes and the video screen all create an extremely realistic visual. It’s very pleasing to the eye.”
For tickets to “Anastasia,” visit SCFTA.org.