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Mercy McAuley High School's ANASTASIA

Dmitry and Anya live happily ever after in Paris (Wesley Pollard, Abby Sewell)

Review By Tierney Rasmussen, Mariemont High School Critic Team

From the ashes of the Russian monarchy rose the sensational and enchanting tale of the lost princess Anastasia. This historical phenomenon has been adapted into a romantic, breathtaking musical. Mercy McAuley High School produced a fantastic rendition of Anastasia, and has done great justice to a show fresh off broadway.

The story of Anastasia follows Anya, a Russian citizen who has suffered amnesia and is left with little knowledge of her past and who she is. In an effort to learn about her history (and make a few rubles) Anya joins a scheme in which she will journey to Paris pretending to be the lost princess Anastasia. A story of love, self discovery, and compassion, Anastasia is a gripping tale from beginning to end.

Abby Sewell (Anya) truly embodied her character. Anya's multiple ballads throughout the show are no small feat. To play Anya requires incredible vocal and acting prowess, which Sewell clearly demonstrated.

Wesley Pollard showcased his vocal talent and polished stage presence as Dmitry. Sewell and Pollard's chemistry was palpable. The pair's artistic connection elevated their performances to a professional level.

The supporting cast stood out through their incredibly emotional performances. Every actor clearly had done intense character study and demonstrated remarkable understanding of who their character was and what their motivations were. Most notably, Jackie Nichols' rendition of "Close the Door" was undeniably heartbreaking. Rachel Heinz wowed with her breathtakingly graceful dance solo during "Quartet at the Ballet." Completing the show, the ensemble during the larger group numbers brought oodles of energy and enthusiasm to their choreography.

Anastasia spans across multiple time periods and cities, making this a monolith of a show for technicians. The tech crew of Mercy McAuley High School took this challenge in stride. The sets, designed by Aspen Knight were extremely versatile, fitting into a wide variety of scenes with minimal set changes. Astonishingly, the majority of the costumes were designed and built by the student costume crew, led by Natalie Smith and Sabrina Warren. This was an incredible achievement due to the sheer number of costumes, as well as the complexity of the individual garments.

A beautiful show, the hard working cast and crew did justice to the magnificent story that is Anastasia. Through their professionalism and talent, the students of Mercy McAuley High School produced a heartfelt show of incredible quality.

Countess Lily (Ali Lewis) remembers the old days as she leads the Neva Club in “Land of Yesterday.”

Review By Owen Cummings, Walnut Hills High School Critic Team

From Paris to St. Petersburg, ballet to the bourgeoisie, Mercy McAuley High School's production of Anastasia the Musical conveys both the show's message of identity and friendship and the realistic environment it takes place in.

Set four years after the Russian Revolution, Anastasia the Musical follows the long lost daughter of the last Russian Tsar and her journey to reclaiming her identity in a political climate that has essentially outlawed her very existence. With the aid of two streetwise con men and a music box that ties her to her past life, she travels across Europe and Asia in the hopes that she will finally be accepted and have a place in the world.

Starring as Anya, freshman Abby Sewell played both sides of the missing Russian princess beautifully. From her introduction as a skeptical street sweeper through her transition to rediscovering her aristocratic confidence, Sewell's Anya was fully three-dimensional throughout, with hope and fear rising and falling naturally in every beat and note.

The supporting cast that propelled Anya through the story was generally very strong as well. Vlad Popov (played by Connor Seng), one of the men who helps Anya escape to Paris was consistently funny and engaging, all while hidden under a stereotypical Russian mustache (designed by Jackie Nichols and Elaina Ward) which was quite impressive. Charles Gall played a complex and compelling antagonist in Gleb, whose conflicting emotions were evident both in song and in body language and provided a standout performance.

Traveling between Russia and France requires several stylistic changes in between the two settings, and designers Aspen Knight, Brynn Gardner, and Jacob Schulte were able to pull off the dichotomy between militaristic Russia and the bustling streets of Paris very well. These set pieces, along with projection cues called by Stage Manager Eliza Russo, provided elaborate backdrops for the cast to perform against, from a performance hall that played host to a stunning ballet number featuring soloist Rachel Heinz, to a restaurant where the old days of Russia were remembered in "Land of Yesterday," featuring Ali Lewis's stellar performance as Countess Lily.

Overall, Mercy McAuley High School's production of Anastasia the Musical was an uplifting, well paced story with several memorable characters and musical numbers that provided, to quote the Act 1 Finale, a well executed "journey to the past."

Anya (Abby Sewell) begins to remember her life in the Romanov palace during “Once Upon a December.”

Review By Loretta Rubin, Walnut Hills High School Critic Team

Venture to the land of yesterday with Mercy McAuley's enchanting production of Anastasia.

Set soon after the Russian Revolution, Anastasia is loosely inspired by the true story of the Romanov family. It was originally an animated movie from 1997 that was adapted for the stage in 2016. The musical stars Anya, a street sweeper with amnesia, who is unaware that she is the lost Russian princess Anastasia. The Grand Duchess offers a reward to anyone who can find her granddaughter, an opportunity which con man Dimitry decides to exploit. He convinces Anya to "pose" as the lost princess for the reward money and she travels to Paris with him and his friend Vlad Popov. However, he begins to have feelings for Anastasia which start to conflict with his desire for the reward. Meanwhile, Soviet General Gleb is intent on finding Anastasia and ending the Romanov bloodline once and for all.

The cast and crew of Anastasia dove headfirst into the story, creating an elegant production that captured the spirit of the original. Each musical number was meticulously choreographed and executed effortlessly The audience was thrown into poverty-stricken Soviet-era Russia, as well as the glamour of high-society Paris. The production as a whole was a heartwarming lesson on the importance of family and self-identity.

Abby Sewell was impeccable as Anya, bringing a unique flair to the ingenue. Her voice was a bitter-sweet mix of melancholy and hope, revealing the soul of the character during the songs "In My Dreams" and"Journey to the Past." Shining alongside her was Wesley Pollard as Dimitry. Charismatic and endearing, the character was a delight to watch. His vocal ability was impressive, in evidence during "My Petersburg", "In a Crowd of Thousands" and "Everything to Win."

A force to be reckoned with, Countess Lily, as played by Ali Lewis, brought the spirit of the jazz age during "Land of Yesterday" with her smooth, yet powerful, singing voice. Alongside Connor Seng's Vlad Popov, the two left a lasting impression on the audience during their duet "The Countess and the Common Man."

Capturing the contrast between the poverty of Soviet Russia and the glitz and glamour of Paris during the roaring twenties, the technical design of this show was flawless. The props, designed by Claire Erion, Claire Childers, McKenna Seng, and Crew included an intricately designed music box which was one of several stunning additions to the show. Lighting by EJ Burke worked in harmony with sets by Aspen Knight, Brynn Gardner, Jacob Schulte, and Crew. Showstopping costumes, designed by Natalie Smith, Sabrina Warren, Adelaide Lindner, and Crew, were astounding, specifically Anya's blue opera dress and final red ball gown,

A dazzling celebration of identity and empathy, Mercy McAuley's Anastasia was a magnificent journey to the past.

The ensemble of Anastasia the Musical talk about the “Rumor in St. Petersburg.”

Excerpts From Other Top Reviews

"Other praiseworthy roles include Charles Gall's Gleb and Ali Lewis' Countess Lily. Gall's impactful acting and soulful vocals wonderfully captured the essence of a duty-bound soldier with a warring heart and mind. Lewis' infectious energy in "Land of Yesterday" was deservedly greeted with uproarious applause. Her spectacular vocals and commanding stage presence provided lighthearted comic relief to balance some of the musical's heavy themes."

-Piper Chatman, Taylor High School Critic Team

"However, what set pieces and props were provided were creative and effective. One especially inventive part of the set were two columns that flipped around to create functional box seats during the ballet scene. Another was the wheeled, wood-frame "train car" Vlad, Dmitry, and Anya ride to Paris, which the actors were able to move during the scene. The many transitions were smooth and well-done, oftentimes woven into the story, like an actor in a soldier's uniform bringing a chair into Gleb's office rather than a member of the Run Crew."

-Maria Zacher, Mason High School Critic Team

"The technical aspects of the show were just as impressive as the performers. The show's costumes, made by Natalie Smith, Sabrina Warren, Adelaide Lindner, and crew, were wildly impressive. There were stark differences between the costumes of Russia and the costumes of Paris, which emphasized the differences between their cultures and historical situations at the time. Some of the most notable costumes that they worked on were the Romanov Sisters' identical pink sparkly dresses and all of Anya's outfits--her initial dress and coat, her simple white dress in Paris, her beautiful dark gown for the opera, and, of course, her dazzling red dress and tiara in the final scenes of the show."

-Berkley Dixon, Ursuline Academy Critic Team

"The lead performers did a beautiful job at carrying the storyline. Lead actress Abby Sewell, who portrayed Anya, and lead actor Wesley Pollard, who played Dmitry, both shared romantic connections throughout the performance, especially during 'In a Crowd of Thousands' when they shared lovely harmonies. This signified their characters realization of love for each other."

-Maura MacDonald, Campbell County High School Critic Team

"The costumes of this show were phenomenally made by the incredibly talented costume crew who not only made the majority of costumes by hand but also did research and made the design patterns. This group of 11 students did a spectacular job adding intricate details to the costumes as well as creating outfits such as the Romanov daughter dresses which they had to design for the actress's quick changes. Lights crew members E.J. Burke and Bethany Strong also did a great job with running the lighting on the background screen, which functioned as part of the setting, showing the year and place to show any time or location changes."

-Caty Leahy, St. Ursula Academy Critic Team

"Connor Seng as Vlad Popov filled the comedic role well. His timing encapsulated his lines, and he progressed the plot through his remarks. Although his role was not the most necessary to the plot, at times Seng successfully stole the spotlight and thrilled the audience with his skill."

-Alexandra Purdy, Mariemont High School Critic Team

"The crew built a very realistic train compartment, and the set changes were always really smooth. Anastasia's dresses and the Romanov family's clothes were really well made, and the pink dresses that the Romanov sisters wore in particular were very pretty."

-Alyssa Freihofer, Ryle High School Critic Team

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