‘Anastasia’ brings a beloved nostalgic story to life on stage

The Company of the North American Tour of ANASTASIA
Jeremy Daniel

The sounds and sights of Broadway are back in Philly, and next up in that category is “Anastasia,” which will be playing on stage at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Merriam Theater starting this week. Inspired by the popular 1997 film, the story transports audiences to Paris in the 1920s while following Anya, a young girl trying to solve the mystery of her forgotten memories while simultaneously journeying to find herself. When she meets up with two other characters, Vlad and Dmitry, her story really seems to take off.

Dmitry, played by Sam McLellan, is almost in a similar boat as his new friend: He’s been alone since he was a child; he has a hardened view of the world and its through cons that he feels he’s able to make some sense of it all. With Anya now pretending to be Anastasia, the lost child of a perished well-established family, his latest con might lead to a bigger situation than any of them could have anticipated. And the results might be the most shocking revelation of all.

McLellan sat down with Metro to discuss more about how this role came about, what’s in store for audiences and how he relates to the plot and Dmitry himself.

Sam McLellanProvided

What was your interest in taking on this role?

You follow opportunities where they come, but I’m at a point in my career that I try to do [work] that is going to be fulfilling to me. Definitely this production and this role met all of the criteria for me [and] I was very happy to be considered. I think this rings true for a lot of people who do musical theater like this: Doing something new is motivating for a lot of us and the variety in our lifestyle and work is something we all seek. You do one show, it runs for a certain amount of time, then you move on to another project and it’s a whole new group of people who you’re working with. Doing something new is very exciting and fulfilling, but specifically with this role and with me, the character I believe really resonates with me. Some of the things that he’s going through and some of the growth that he experiences throughout the show are things that I’ve worked through in my own life recently… So, I think it’s very fresh and my attitude towards what he’s going through is fresh in my mind and hits close to home. I think that I’m able to do this character justice and serve this story in the best way possible.

What can you tell me about your character Dmitry and what he goes through throughout the show?
Dmitry is a complex character. On the surface, he’s a con man and he’s grown up on the streets by himself. His parents are not around and haven’t been around since he was a child, he’s very skeptical of the world around him and is constantly looking at ways he can exploit it for his benefit. But deep down — and this why I say he’s complex — he’s a kind and gentle person. But he hasn’t had that opportunity to show that to anybody because the world around him is so harsh he’s had to be so defensive and cold. With Anya, this character comes into his life and really opens him up. The audience gets to discover along with him that he’s not really just out for himself and he does care about people and he is willing to sacrifice things for others if they mean something to him. But this is the first time in his life where he’s experienced that beyond his relationship with his parents which ended when he was a child. So, you get to discover that with him and you see these layers get peeled open and it’s really rewarding to do every night, and I’m sure rewarding for the audience to experience along with him.

Sam McLellan (Dmitry) in The North American Tour of ANASTASIAJeremy Daniel

For those who don’t know, how would you describe the story and the plot of “Anastasia?”

At it’s most basic sense, it’s about a young woman trying to discover where she belongs in the world. I think that’s a story that resonates with a lot of people, but to give you more detail, this character doesn’t know where she’s from — she’s had amnesia since she was a child and she’s looking for something. She’s had these glimmers of memories and  dreams that remind her of who she was, but she can’t quite connect all the dots. She runs into these two characters, Vlad and Dmitry, who are trying to run this con where they find this girl to be Anastasia. The empress who lives in Paris is offering a reward for her safe return because here’s this rumor that Anastasia is still alive while her family had been killed by the Bolsheviks… So, Anya, Dmitry and Vlad end up doing this con together because they have aligned interests. She’s trying to get to Paris and of course, without completely spoiling it beyond what people I’m sure expect, there’s some surprises along the way that hint towards who she is and potentially Vlad and Dmitry’s story being different than they initially planned.

How would you describe the music of the show?

Magical, it’s truly magical. If you’re familiar with the animated film then you will be familiar with many of the songs, but there’s so much more added music. The brilliant composing team wrote a lot of fresh, new music for this production. Just thinking about the time when the film came out, you can imagine the kind of style it is. It’s very nostalgic for a lot of people who would have watched those films as kids. But at the same time for people who are not familiar with the film, it’s still fresh enough for them to really dig in and enjoy. It’s a nice blend and it appeals to a lot of audiences across a lot of demographics.

Kyla Stone (Anya) and Sam McLellan (Dmitry) in the North American Tour of ANASTASIAJeremy Daniel

What do you hope people take away from the show?

I think what I want people to take away: No matter how lost you feel or how much you feel like you don’t belong, you can find that for yourself. But you have to work for it. Once you do, you realize that you don’t have to rely on other people for a sense of belonging, that’s something you can discover in yourself. I think the story of Anya in our play, the supposition is that she’s going to find belonging because it’s something that’s already been ascribed to her. But what she finds belonging in is something she discovers along the way. I think that that’s going to be the thing that resonated most with people… They do belong, but they have to find their own belonging.

“Anastasia” will run at Merriam Theater on Kimmel Cultural Campus from Nov. 23 to Nov. 28.