A Wonderfully Entertaining, and Educational, High School Play

My wife and I left the theater in awe tonight, saying to each other, “I can’t believe that was a high school play!” The couple we were with had the same reaction.

We had just watched Anastasia, a play based on an animated film of the same name from 1997. which was then made into a Broadway play about five years ago.

I knew nothing about the play, and nothing about the historical background on which it is loosely based.

Here is a blurb from the Broadway play’s website:

Anastasia transports us from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of a dashing conman and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love, and family.

I was so taken by the story that as soon as I got home, I had to read more about Anastasia.

Here is some of that background:

In 1918, the Russian Imperial Romanov family (Nicholas II of Russia, his wife Alexandra Feodorovna, and their five children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei) were shot and bayoneted to death by Bolshevik revolutionaries. (Wikipedia)

However, there were ersistent rumors of Anastasia’s possible escape that circulated after her death, fueled by the fact that the location of her burial was unknown during the decades of Communist rule. The abandoned mine serving as a mass grave near Yekaterinburg which held the acidified remains of the Tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters was revealed in 1991. These remains were put to rest at Peter and Paul Fortress in 1998. The bodies of Alexei Nikolaevich and the remaining daughterโ€”either Anastasia or her older sister Mariaโ€”were discovered in 2007. Her purported survival has been conclusively disproven. Scientific analysis including DNA testing confirmed that the remains are those of the imperial family, showing that all four grand duchesses were killed in 1918.

Several women falsely claimed to have been Anastasia; the best-known impostor was Anna Anderson. Anderson’s body was cremated upon her death in 1984, but DNA testing in 1994 on available pieces of Anderson’s tissue and hair showed no relation to the Romanov family. (Wikipedia)

The play, and the movie, take a great deal of poetic license with the real story,

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the 1997 film three stars, calling the lead character “pretty and charming” but criticizing the film for a lack of historical accuracy.

Critical reception in Russia was also, for the most part, positive despite the artistic liberties that the film took with Russian history. Gemini Films, the Russian distributor of Anastasia, stressed the fact that the story was “not history”, but rather “a fairy tale set against the background of real Russian events” in the film’s Russian marketing campaign so that its Russian audience would not view Anastasia as a historical film. As a result, many Russians praised the film for its art and storytelling and saw it as not a piece of history but another Western import to be consumed and enjoyed.

After reading these historical background pieces, it made me realize how little I know about Russian history. I would have thought I would have heard of the execution of an entire royal family a little over 100 years ago, but I never have.

So it was a triple bonus evening: we saw a great play, I learned some Russian history, and we got to spend time with some old friends.

*Image from the New York Times

53 thoughts on “A Wonderfully Entertaining, and Educational, High School Play

  1. Sounds like a fun night! I heard about Anastasia but I think that is one Disney movie we nevet saw. Watched all the other Disney Princess movies.
    Sad story!
    Having her escape is more pleasant. Thats the fun of fiction, anything can happen!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. apparently it was not an original Disney movie, but they have since bought the rights.

      It is a sad story, but the play at least has a happy ending…


  2. Clearly the history syllabus is more complete here, as I learned about that in school. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it is no longer taught here, though. Does this new attraction for the history of the former Russian royal family mean that you’ll be giving us some Boney M for the next Music Monday?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am not familiar with Boney M. I searched your blog and I see you mentioned them a couple of times in conjunction with The Little Drummer Boy, but I did not see any music from them. Perhaps I missed it. But I will check them out.

      and I do remember taking a course in European history in high school, but I do not remember anything from it. I was great at short-term memorization, so I did well on tests, but then two weeks later, all that knowledge was gone…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Boney M were a German disco act, three women and a guy. Youโ€™ll never see any music by them on my blog! They had a string of hits here, the one I was referencing was Rasputin. Not recommended as a history lesson, or as music, come to that.

        I was good at cramming for tests and exams too ๐Ÿ˜‚

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That was their stock in trade. Catchy beats, mindless lyrics. Very cleverly done and they had a huge string of hits here and across Europe from the mid 70s to the mid 80s. Needless to say, my wife loved them and I hated them – our musical tastes rarely aligned!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. 1918 was not a good year to be a Russian royal. I remember back in the 70’s watching a Leonard Nimoy “In Search Of” episode about Anastasia. It was a mystery that intrigued people for decades. Glad you had a good time watching the show.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. apparently not, and I am guessing the overthrow of the royals was somehow tied into WWI.

      that sounds like that would have been an interesting “In Search Of” episode…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The royals got Russia into the war. But then the Bolshevik revolution took place, followed by a civil war, and the Bolsheviks had to sign a peace treaty with Germany. Russia lost a lot of territory in that treaty, including Ukraine and the Baltic states.

        Lenin hoped that by killing the entire royal family, those who supported the czar would feel discouraged and give up their resistance to the Bolsheviks. The myth of Anastasia was invented by the opposition as a way to encourage future resistance to communist rule.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. So happy high school musicals are back! And yes, the talent of young people today seems to be at a higher level than when I was in school. Like sports there are just so many summer camps and voice lessons and acting classes and other community programs to develop interests and talents and the results are spectacular.

    I started taking my (autistic) son to local high school musicals right after his sister graduated and I needed new ways to entertain him/social connections.

    We kept going even when we knew none of the players because his peers had graduated … and the price is right compared to Broadway.

    So fun to watch these talented young people with their whole lives, hopes, dreams ahead of them… we even drove to North Carolina to see his cousin in Sound of Music.

    I especially like the Broadway Nights with a mix of bits and songs from several plays I’d never seen.

    My thought was just like your wife’s afterwards: THAT was a high school musical?!
    Seemed professional to me! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We also enjoy musicals, at any level. But there is something special about high school shows when you see such young talent and enthusiasm.

      Our favorite play is Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor… and we once drove to North Carolina to see it (our son was living there).

      Is the Broadway Nights an ongoing play with different music featured?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Glad you had a great date night with your wife! ๐Ÿ™‚ I love when things surprise me like the talented performers in the play you enjoyed! ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t know too much about Russian history but the name Romanov does sound very familiar.. will look that one up!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Russian history is totally fascinating and of course dark. I’m afraid I am astonished you had not heard of the killing of the royal family, there was a film ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’ back in 1971 which was just the sort of film I enjoyed as a teenager, how historically accurate I do not know! We ‘did’ revolutions, including Russia, in history at school in Australia. Of course the sad story is compelling to anyone British because our king could perhaps have given his Romanov cousins sanctuary. King George V of Great Britain, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany were first cousins, their grandmother was Queen Victoria. Eerily the three men looked very much alike. What terrible times they lived in. You will probably gather that our royal family are hardly English or British at all. The royal families of Europe are a breed of their own! Anyway, that sounds like a great play and I thought nit rather disappointing when it was decided Anastasia Did Not survive. I believe they used the duke of Edinburgh’s DNA to compare… https://www.history.co.uk/articles/the-kaiser-the-tsar-and-king-george-v-cousins-at-war-in-ww1


    1. that was a powerful family – heads of Russia, Great Britain, and Germany!

      I may have been taught about the killing, but I may have not been paying attention. I was more of a math and science guy. Now I wish I had paid more attention in history and geography classes.

      It would have been more fun if Anastasia’s life had remained a mystery….


  7. Fabulous post, Jim. I don’t know much Russian history either. How interesting the choice for the high school play with what’s going on in Russia and Ukraine right now. I read a biography of Catherine the great a few years back. It was amazing what she had to go through to get to the position in which she found herself. I have so much to learn about Russian.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. they did make a short statement before the play expressing their support for the people of Ukraine. I also need to learn more about Russian history. I have read a couple of Dostoevsky’s novels and enjoyed them quite a bit…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I just remember I struggled with all the names and at times the story was confusing, and they were both pretty long. so yes, you need to commit some time to them, or like I said, at least that’s my memory of them. ๐Ÿ™‚



  8. I have always thought the mystery of Anastasia fascinating. I was disappointed when her remains were confirmed. How wonderful to have both a date night and a wonderful high school musical experience! I’ve always loved musicals.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I know, I’m a mystery lover more than a ‘need to know’ person. And my love of musicals started when I saw ‘Oklahoma’ on my tenth birthday.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m glad to hear that the play was well done by the high schoolers, Jim. I hope the wonderful experience encourage the students to pursue the performing art or at least continue to perform in the future.

    I’m glad you and your wife had a wonderful evening. ๐Ÿ˜Š

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I was surprised that neither you nor anyone in the comments mentioned the 1956 film version starring Ingrid Bergman. She won an Oscar for that performance and it’s the version of the fictional story with which I am most familiar.

    Liked by 1 person

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