DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – In a rush, cheers and applause flooded the theater in a giant wave of shared adrenalin – quite the exciting experience for all.
On stage, a performer and song-and-dance entourage owned a song. A spitfire character ignited a swirl of energy and dynamism and swept everyone into a remarkable moment – one of the most explosive responses in the lifetime of the theater.
This happened Thursday night in the midst of “Anastasia: The Musical,” presented by the youthful St. Norbert College Music Theatre-Next Stage.
In the summer training/opportunity program, students are provided everything it takes to put on a quality musical production. That includes the material (selected show), costuming, staging, special effects, live orchestra and expert guidance. It’s a distinctive program.
This year, 19 area high schools are represented in the company of “Anastasia: The Musical.”
The show is meaty and full of myth. Along the way, it is moving, tender, energetic, danger-filled, romantic, whimsical, majestic and mysterious.
The fairy tale is based on a real story that fascinated countless people for decades in the 20th century.
Light is shone on the enigmatic soul of Russia, providing the players oh so much to work with.
Added is some razzle-dazzle of today’s theater: Projections. The screen can be a palace ballroom or a Bolshevik bastion of bureaucracy or the base of the Eiffel Tower or a forest in the background of a moving train seen from different angles or atmospheric ghost-like regal dancers gliding as if a fading memory.
The show is dressed to the nines. Tsar Nicholas II and all the Romanovs and their entourage are costumed like grand royalty.
Like a Russian novel, the story is filled with many key characters. Substantial voices fill this production. One nobleman is featured briefly, singing reflectively. Soon, a shot is heard. And he is gone.
The story is clever, if manipulating. Two shifty guys – Dmitry (Aidan Averbeck) and Vlad (Timothy Huber) – in 1927 latch onto the rumor that the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevana survived the massacre of her family in 1918 during the Russian Revolution. To feed the public’s thirst, the two set out to find a young woman suitable to be Anastasia and cash in on the family fortune upon the death of the Dowager Empress (Aria Kiedinger). The rigid regime, represented by the dour Gleb (Ryan Bouchard), thinks all this rumor stuff should be quashed once and for all.
The setup: a street sweeper with amnesia, Anya (Olivia Weyenberg), presents herself to the con guys, and in their training her to be grandly duchess-y, little things fall into place so that everybody discovers she’s the real deal.
Notable writer Terrence McNally tucks some juicy lines into the story. Anya wonders about her foggy past, now stirred by the con guys: “How do you become the person you ever were?” The Dowager Empress, in exile in Paris, reflects on her soured life: “I find solace in my bitterness. It doesn’t disappoint me.”
Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens have a gift with lovely and yearning. The young voices are responsive in the characters performed by Olivia Weyenberg, Aria Kiedinger, Aidan Averbeck, Timothy Huber, Ryan Bouchard, Henry Pahlow and Amelia Gibbons.
“Quartet at the Ballet” is prime territory. As the four leading characters sing their individual thoughts, four ballet dancers flow in a representation of “Swan Lake.” Complex beauty is achieved by the performers and the wonderful collaboration of directors who led them to the artistry.
Song-dance ensemble numbers electrify the start of the second act in “Paris Holds the Key” and “Land of Yesterday.” In the latter, Amelia Gibbons is at the fore, a sparkplug in character, voice and dance, with the colorful ensemble radiating colors of a performance rainbow. Thursday, the audience’s response to that display was stunning.
Running time: 2½ hours
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13; 2 p.m. Aug. 14
Source of virtual program: snc.edu/nextstage, click on “view digital program here”
Creative: Terrence McNally; music and lyrics – Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens; producer: Music Theatre Management Team: Paul Mashl, Kent Paulsen, Michael Rosewall, Stephen Rupsch; co-director/choral director – Teresa Schmidt; co-director – choreographer – Andrea Hearden; pit director – Philip Klickman; scenic designer – Jeff Entwistle; projections – provided by Broadway Media; lighting designer – David Fitzpatrick; technical director – Corey Allan Pinchart; assistant technical director – Brittney Fritz; props designer – Hayden Barlass; costume designer – Erica Peters; hair and make-up designer – Stacey Nellen-Kolze; sound designer – Paul Mashl; stage manager – Katie DeRuyter; assistant stage manager – Grace Hess; assistant choreographer – Molly Lucareli; fight director – Greg Pragel
Cast (in order of appearance):
+ The Dowager Empress – Aria Kiedinger
+ Little Anastasia/Prince Alexei – Andi Gallagher
+ The Tsarina – Kenney Kramer
+ The Tsar – Isaac Bowman
+ Romanov Daughters – Sonia Ettinger, Emily Hoeppner, Grace Pieschek
+ Cadets – Aren Dominic Damayo, Charlie Rickards, Jacob Massart, Luke Calaway
+ Teen Anastasia – Ava Coppo
+ Servants – Ione Berken, Mitchell Blohm, Taylor VanRoy, Xavi Nohara
+ Lily – Amelia Gibbons
+ Dmitry – Aidan Averbeck
+ Vlad – Timothy Huber
+ Gleb – Ryan Bouchard
+ Soldiers – Kristen Roggenbauer, Isaac Roberts
+ Peasants – Ava Coppo, Kenney Kramer, Emily Hoeppner, Grace Pieschek, Charlie Rickards, Jacob Massart, Aren Dominic Damayo, Henry Pahlow, Luke Calaway, Ione Berken, Avery Moureau, Bella Frank, Mitchell Blohm, Taylor Van Roy, Xavi Nohara, Jake Barbeau, Jon Vissers, Joey Thuecks, Sophie Utrie, Tryanna Dokolas, Will Bakken, Kristen Roggenbauer, Isaac Roberts.
+ Anya – Olivia Weyenberg
+ Black Marketeers – Emily Hoeppner, Charlie Rickards, Jacob Massart, Bella Frank, Jake Barbeau
+ Dunya – Grace Pieschek
+ Marfa – Ione Berken
+ Paulina – Lauren Rank
+ Clerks – Ava Coppo, Jon Vissers, Joey Thuecks, Will Bakken, Kristen Roggenbauer, Isaac Roberts, Luke Calaway
+ Drunks – Jake Barbeau, Emily Hoeppner, Luke Calaway, Charlie Rickards
+ Count Ipolitov – Henry Pahlow
+ Smoker – Charlie Rickards
+ Policemen – Mitchell Blohm, Jon Vissers
+ Gorlinsky – Luke Calaway
+ Count Leopold – Charlie Rickards
+ Sergei – Jake Barbeau
+ Count Gregory – Will Bakken
+ Countess Gregory – Taylor VanRoy
+ At the Ballet – Aren Dominic Damayo, Aiden Averbeck, Timothy Huber, Olivia Weyenberg, Aria Kiedinger, Amelia Gibbons, Bella Frank, Tryanna Dokolas, Will Bakken, Taylor VanRoy
+ Swan Lake Dancers – Sonia Ettinger, Emily Hoeppner, Grace Pieschek, Katherine Vadney
+ Reporters – Henry Pahlow, Taylor VanRoy, Mitchell Blohm, Xavi Nohara, Sophie Utrie, Ione Berken, Lauren Rank, Kennedy Kramer, Jacob Massert, Jake Barbeau, Bella Frank
+ Soldiers – Luke Calaway, Will Bakken, Joey Thuecks
Pit orchestra: Philip Klickman (conductor), Emily Sculliuffo (piano 1), Isabella Kafka (piano 2), Hannah Davis (violin), Marco Villagomez (violin), Madeline Tricarico (bass), Hannah Beals-Romero (flute/piccolo/alto saxophone), Nora Barr (flute), Carrie Schwartz (oboe/English horn), Alex Allen (clarinet), Claire Hendee (trumpet), Samantha Reynolds (French horn), Logan Lemmens (trombone), Isa Wagner (percussion)
(Saint Petersburg, 1907, 1917 and 1927)
“Prologue: Once Upon a December” – Dowager Empress and Little Anastasia
“The Last Dance of the Romanovs” – Ensemble
“A Rumor in St. Petersburg” – Dmitry, Vlad and Ensemble
“In My Dreams” – Anya
“The Rumors Never End” – Gleb and Ensemble
“Learn to Do It” – Vlad, Anya and Dmitry
“The Neva Flows” – Gleb and Anya
“The Neva Flows” (Reprise) – Men
“My Petersburg” – Dmitry and Anya
“Once Upon a December” – Anya and Ensemble
“A Secret She Kept” – Anya
“Stay, I Pray You” – Count Ipolitov, Anya, Dmitry, Vlad, and Ensemble
“We’ll Go from There” – Vlad, Anya, Dmitry, and Ensemble
“Traveling Sequence” – Gleb, Gorlinsky, Anya, Dmitry and Vlad
“Still” – Gleb
“Journey to the Past” – Anya
“Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart)” – Vlad, Dmitry, Anya and Ensemble
“Close the Door” – Dowager Empress
“Land of Yesterday” – Countess Lily and Ensemble
“The Countess and the Common Man” – Vlad and Lily
“Land of Yesterday” (Reprise) – Gleb
“A Nightmare” – Romanov Children, Tsar and Tsarina
“In a Crowd of Thousands” – Dmitry and Anya
“Meant to Be” – Vlad
“Quartet at the Ballet” – Anya, Dmitry, Dowager Empress and Gleb
“Everything to Win” – Dmitry
“Once Upon a December” (Reprise) – Anya and Dowager Empress
“The Press Conference” – Lily, Vlad and Ensemble
“Everything to Win” (Reprise) – Anya
“Still” (Reprise)/“The Neva Flows” (Reprise) – Gleb, Anya and Ensemble
“Finale” – Dowager Empress, Gleb and Ensemble
THE VENUE: The 724-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.
THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.