Arts and Entertainment

STC Leaves Its Land of Yesterday Behind

STC’s latest show, Anastasia, proves to be one of its best in recent memory.

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By Ryan Radwan

Following a year of hit-or-miss productions, the Stuyvesant Theater Community (STC) has made a huge comeback, blowing everyone out of the water with a show that was a smashing success. STC’s production of the musical Anastasia cemented itself as one of the club’s best post-pandemic shows. 

Anastasia takes place in early 20th-century Soviet Russia following the royal Romanov family’s murder during the Bolshevik Revolution. There is only one survivor of this massacre, the young amnesiac Anastasia (Marlee Sidor). In Paris, Anastasia’s grandmother, the dowager empress (Sarah Mo), posts a reward for anyone who can safely bring her granddaughter to her. Years later, two con men, Dmitry (Adeline Sauberli) and his partner in crime, Vlad (Dylan Ross), formulate a scheme to pass street sweeper Anya (Lily Wagman) off as Anastasia and claim the bounty for themselves. Unbeknownst to them (and Anya herself), Anya is Anastasia. The three are chased through Russia and France by a communist officer named Gleb (Henry Santos Hendricks), who suspects that Anya is Anastasia. Over the course of the escape, Anastasia and Dmitry fall in love. Gleb catches up to Anastasia in Paris, where they have an emotional standoff and he decides not to kill her. To protect Anastasia, the dowager empress claims that she was killed years ago in the massacre and that the legend of Anastasia’s survival was only a myth. This allows Anastasia to return to Dmitry, and the two live happily ever after.

The cast performed admirably, a notable standout being junior Adeline Sauberli’s portrayal of Dmitry. Sauberli brought a unique charisma that animated the stage, turning scenes that could have otherwise felt like lulls in the action into emotional, heartfelt moments. She used her acting chops and deliberate phrasing to deliver the intention behind every lyric. Overall, Sauberli was the most well-rounded presence in the production. 

Vocally, however, senior Dinah-Luba Beylison’s performance as Countess Lilly was unmatched by her castmates. Beylison is a professional singer and skilled dancer; her meticulously honed skills allowed her to deliver a show-stopping performance and steal the criminally few scenes she appeared in. 

Sophomore Lily Wagman gave a solid performance in her role as the titular character, showcasing strong vocal talent and capturing the character’s demure nature. However, the portrayal was quite nondescript, making it difficult to determine any of Anastasia’s defining traits. If this was designed to portray the character’s lack of identity, then perhaps it could be considered a success—but as of now, it leaves the main character less memorable than the rest. 

Junior Dylan Ross delivered another entertaining performance as Vlad, portraying a similar character to his previous roles. This likely explains why this was Ross’s most polished performance of his STC career. His portrayal of Vlad expertly utilized his charming, understated charisma.

Another vocal standout is freshman Sarah Mo, The dowager empress, who delivered impressive alto vocals in her STC debut. Newcomer sophomore Henry Santos Hendricks also showed great potential in his portrayal of Gleb. Santos Hendricks has ample talent and a strong command of the stage, which—if properly nurtured—could become defined skills in future productions. Other strong vocal performances include those from sophomore William Lake’s Gorlinsky and junior Maya Mukherji’s Count Ipolitov. 

The new addition of ensemble, dance, and choir directors paid off: Anastasia’s ensemble delivered an excellent and well-coordinated performance. They captured attention during the lively dance numbers—especially those of Act II—without drawing focus away from the characters. The efforts of the choreographers created a noticeable improvement in the dance numbers compared to past shows. One of the production’s highlights was a captivating ballet sequence, a previously unheard-of inclusion in post-pandemic STC shows. The chorus’ harmonies were mostly effective, but some moments would have needed a redistribution of efforts to achieve their full potential.

The band performed admirably, despite the show being extremely musically demanding; band members were required to play under scenes as well as during musical numbers, setting the tone for the show with “Once Upon a December” and its multiple reprises. The group also provided spontaneous entertainment during intermission, with some members starting to play popular tunes like “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and the rest of the band and chorus joining in. 

The show’s costumes demonstrated great vision and skill, and they were one of the production’s greatest triumphs. Anya’s iconic red dress, signifying her metamorphosis into her new identity as Anastasia, inspired a wave of applause and cheers from the audience. Another standout was Lilly’s bedazzled green costume of lace and sequins, which was the perfect fit for her flamboyant character. Costumes for the minor characters were just as impressive and eye-catching; in particular, the Romanovs’ white gowns were ethereal and ghost-like, lending their scenes a hazy, mournful atmosphere befitting of Anya’s search through her forgotten past. The ensemble’s costumes were similarly effective in capturing the mood of each setting: the impoverished Russians were dressed in long coats and drab gray-brown, while the romanticized Parisians whirled across the stage in vibrant florals and pinks.

Anastasia’s set was significantly more elaborate than STC productions of late and saw many transformations throughout the show, with set changes and blackouts between almost every scene. Triangles, set pieces typically used as backdrops, were replaced with arches in scenes at the royal palace and a Parisian club. Perhaps most impressive was the large train with motorized wheels that “transported” Anastasia and the conmen to France, a feat made possible by a tech member lying underneath the train and turning its wheels. Both the train’s construction and stage maneuvering demonstrated the tech crew’s increased ambition and involvement. The elaborate opera booths that appeared toward the end of Act II also helped create a more immersive scene during the ballet performance. Overall, the complicated set was well-executed and effectively supported the cast.

Lights and Sound performed relatively smoothly with fewer microphone hiccups than usual, allowing most of the actors’ lines to be audible for the audience. The usage of the projector during the train scenes indicates that the new tool could be extremely effective in future STC productions, though the disproportionate scrim and projection combined strangely; more practice is needed. The show’s props didn’t stand out, but the sheer number of guns created for the Soviet soldiers’ dramatic standoff with the Romanovs was impressive. The characters’ makeup was also skillfully done, indicating changes in their status and circumstances as they moved from the streets of St. Petersburg to the opera and beyond.

All in all, STC’s Anastasia was an ambitious effort with an incredible payoff. It is not an overstatement to say that the show was a fantastic spectacle. STC has made a triumphant return, finally fully recovering from the pandemic, leaving the audience impressed and hopeful for a future of excellent theater to come.