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Billboard on Broadway Podcast: 'Anastasia' Creators and Stars on Reanimating a Classic '90s Film Onstage

Billboard on Broadway Podcast: Anastasia
Joan Marcus

Billboard on Broadway Podcast: Anastasia

While plenty of Disney films have made their way to Broadway stages over the past couple decades, one of the great animated musical movies of the last quarter-century —  20th Century Fox’s first foray into the form, 1997’s Anastasia — took a long and winding road to an off-screen adaptation. Now it's a much-anticipated new musical (opening Apriil 24 at the Broadhurst Theatre), which its creators, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and stars, Christy Altomare (Anya) and Derek Klena (Dmitry), discuss on the Billboard on Broadway podcast.

Ahrens and Flaherty are perhaps best known in the theatrical world for their Tony-winning score for the 2009 musical Ragtime, but their music for the film Anastasia, including its now much-beloved banner song “Journey to the Past,” earned the pair two Oscar nominations years earlier. “We’ve grown up on it, and I think the musical has grown up too,” Ahrens reflects. 

Revisiting songs they wrote 20 years ago – and adding many new songs to the score – “could be tricky,” Flaherty allows. “It’s not only jumping back into the project and the characters again, it’s jumping into who you were 20 years ago.”  To his and Ahrens’ surprise, the process was “effortless…in a certain way, it was unfinished business. With an animated film, you can only go so deep, character-wise and thematically. We didn’t want to just take the animated movie and put it on a stage – we really wanted to re-conceive it for a contemporary theatrical audience.”

Reflecting on their own paths to the show, Altomare and Klena both remember the film’s popularity during their own childhoods. “I saw it in the theater, and I remember afterwards I was like, ‘It’s Liz Calloway’s voice! We just saw Liz Calloway in Cats!” Altomare recalls, referring to the veteran Broadway actress who who gave musical voice to Anya in the movie. “I was dancing around in my basement. I had the Dmitry and the Anya dolls.” 

Klena, for his part, remembers how ubiquitous the songs “Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past” seemed at the time. “I feel like everyone was singing [them],” he says.

Klena and Altomare agree that working with Ahrens and Flaherty was “a bucket list experience,” going on to detail the rare experience of having new music created explicitly for them. Listen to the foursome -- clearly a mutual admiration society -- chat with host Rebecca Milzoff on this week’s episode.

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