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On Theater: A royal treatment of ‘Anastasia’

Anastasia
Lila Coogan as Anya in the national tour of “Anastasia,” which is visiting the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa through Nov. 17.
(Matthew Murphy / MurphyMade)

It would be regrettable if the spectacular scenic effects in “Anastasia,” now in residence at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, actually overwhelmed the performances, but there’s little of concern on that score.

This superior touring production, which centers on the search for the sole survivor of the Russian czar’s murdered family when the Bolsheviks came mercilessly into power in 1917, boasts some fine acting and world-class singing voices as well as some outstanding technical achievements.

With a spellbinding script by playwright Terrence McNally, backed by the veteran words-and-music team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, “Anastasia” is both a powerhouse production and an intricate love story, beautifully directed by Darko Tresnjak.

It’s 1927, a decade after the revolution, in what once was St. Petersburg and now is Leningrad. A pair of Russian con artists are seeking a teenage girl — any teenage girl — whom they can pass off as Anastasia to her regal aunt in Paris and collect a sizable reward.

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Anastasia
Lila Coogan as Anya and Jake Levy as Dmitry in the national tour of “Anastasia,” currently at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
(Evan Zimmerman / MurphyMade)

Into their lives comes Anya, a street urchin, who might actually be the missing heiress. After a series of training exercises reminiscent of those in “My Fair Lady,” they hop a train and head for Paris and destiny. Thanks to some awesome special effects from production designer Aaron Rhyne, we go along for the ride.

Lila Coogan delivers a stunning performance as Anya, excelling musically as well as dramatically. Her sweeping “Journey to the Past” solo, which closes the first act, is a highlight of the show.

As her mercenary tutors, Edward Staudenmayer and Jake Levy are a pair of smooth operators. Staudenmayer scores as an old flame of the dowager empress’ lady in waiting, while the youthful Levy gradually shifts into a more caring and ultimately romantic gear.

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Anastasia
Jake Levy as Dmitry, Lila Coogan as Anya and Ed Staudenmayer as Vlad in the “Anastasia,” which runs at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa through Nov. 17.
(Evan Zimmerman / MurphyMade)

Joy Franz enacts the haughty dowager empress with authority and conviction, along with the faint hope that the real Anastasia may be found. Her lady in waiting, Countess Lily, is given a remarkably appealing interpretation by Tari Kelly, who’s skilled in both high-voltage vocalizing and farcical comedy.

The requisite villain, a Communist radical whose mission is to kill Anastasia, seems a contrived addition but he’s well played by Jason Michael Evans. Brad Greer doubles nicely as the czar and a scheming count.

Technically, the show gets off to a rousing start as an elegant social event in the czar’s palace is consumed in flames. It’s one of many impressive moments from set designer Alexander Dodge and the sound and lighting team of Peter Hylenski and Donald Holder.

“Anastasia,” beautified by the costume creations of Linda Cho, is, as its heroine proclaims, a “journey into the past” excelling in music, drama and, especially, technical acumen. The train ride is a show in itself. It’s the full package of theater at the Segerstrom Center.

IF YOU GO

What: “Anastasia”

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7:30, Sundays at 1 and 6:30 until Nov. 17

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Cost: Call for information

Information: (714) 556-2787; scfta.org

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