Christy Altomare and Derek Klena originate the roles of Anya and Dmitry on Broadway in the romantic and heartwarming legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia
Gorgeous, sweeping and grand, the recent Broadway production of Anastasia is a new telling of a classic tale for a modern audience. Inspired by the 1997 animated feature, the 1956 film starring Ingrid Bergman and true historical events, the stage version takes on a life of its own, while staying true to the source material. The creative team and talented cast can take credit for that.
“What’s so great about this piece is Terrence McNally wrote the book and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty wrote the music and lyrics—so haunting and filled with emotion,” says Christy Altomare, who plays Anya, the lead of the show.
Derek Klena, who plays Anya’s love interest Dmitry, agrees. While he feels connected to the earlier versions, especially the animated film that he grew up with, Klena feels that it is different from other depictions. “That’s the beauty and privilege of developing this show from scratch—that we get to create these characters, create these plotlines and story arcs and create our own quips without focusing on anything previous,” he says.
Anastasia the Musical is different from its predecessors. But the overall theme of hope for a better future endures.
“I feel one thing that the world especially needs right now is optimism and that is one quality that Anya has that is innately within her and carries her through the show,” says Altomare.
Klena expands on the message. “Three words repeated throughout the film are ‘home, love, family,’ an element [we bring into] the show” he says. “It really does speak to all ages—about finding a place in the world, in an ever-changing crazy life. And it’s a timeless idea.”
The ‘home, love, family’ motif extends beyond the narrative of the play and into the lives of those involved in the show. Many of the cast members and ensemble players from the spring of 2017 Hartford, Connecticut, production of Anastasia continued on to Broadway. Altomare says it feels like a family, with a few new members.
“A good director is someone who is able to cast well,” she says. “One of the most amazing skills of Darko [Tresnjak] is his ability to cast people who are genuinely hard workers, who are willing to put the time in to do the best they can, and also have a good heart and be good people deep down inside.”
Altomare speaks highly of all of her colleagues, as do they of her. Klena and Altomare had played love interests once before in the 2012 Off-Broadway revival of Carrie, and have remained friends since. Knowing that they already clicked reassured him that the show would be a pleasurable experience. And it is.
Klena also credits Tresnjak with creating a warm and nurturing atmosphere behind-the-scenes. “He is the best leader I’ve ever gotten to work with in this environment,” he says. “Darko can put everyone in a room in a good state of mind.”
Klena caught the acting bug early. During an “epic trip” to New York City during his youth, he saw Wicked, with some of the original cast, Rent and a revival of 42nd Street. “I knew that I wanted to do this and [that trip] was one of the defining factors of pursuing this career and growing a love and passion for it,” he says. Perhaps it was destiny that he was part of the 10th anniversary cast of Wicked.
Whenever possible, Klena reunites with Academy Award-winning songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with whom he worked on Off-Broadway’s Dogfight in 2012. In April 2015, he performed at a Pasek and Paul & Friends concert at Port Washington’s Landmark on Main Street. “They gave me an opportunity to be part of one of the best theater experiences in my life,” Klena says. “Getting to work with them on Dogfight changed my life and helped me grow as an actor.”
In addition to a career in theater, Altomare is also a singer-songwriter. She has recorded three original albums and hopes to make more. “If it is possible to lay down another CD, that would be incredible. That’s something I’m working towards,” she says.
For now, both actors are immersed in the fairy tale-like world of Anastasia. “It’s a dream,” says Klena, “and it’s a privilege for us.”
“Getting to tell that story in her skin is really rewarding for me because I do believe in this character, in the kind of person that she is,” Altomare adds. “I feel this sense of joy and gratitude every day that I get to live out my dream.”