Good-Bye 'Anastasia': Final Thoughts on the Musical That Consumed the First Half of 2024

It has been a few days since the closing night of the Playful Fox Production's three-city and nine-show run of Anastasia. There is a haunting emptiness that lingers after saying goodbye to this musical. Sunday was especially weird with my brain constantly screaming that I should either be at rehearsal or performing the show. The end of anything where you throw in your heart and soul to make it wonderful leads to a bit of sadness. The feeling is even stronger when you work alongside amazing people who over time become friends and start feeling like family and the realization smacks that you won't see them as often.

I am a theatre person now. It is wild to realize that at the start of 2023, the idea of being in a musical was nowhere on my radar. I've always loved the arts and going to see musicals. It made sense to enroll our kids in a musical theatre program with Theatre Ancaster back in 2021, and I was thrilled when they both not only loved it but excelled on the stage. I never intended to sing and dance in front of an audience, and some more talented people may argue I still haven't really done that. But I've now been in two musicals (the other being Beauty and the Beast). 

You never know where this crazy life will take you, and more importantly, how far you can go when you push yourself. I was always happy to write about theatre and musicals, but now being in them is a defining part of my life. I have committed to three more shows, and I'm already brainstorming what I'll perform in my next audition with hopes of even bigger or more challenging parts. 

The great thing about my newfound love (or considering how much I loved acting as a kid probably 'rediscovered' is the better word) is that it is shared with the entire family. It is a time-consuming commitment with rehearsals and then at home trying to learn and perfect dances, songs, and characters, but at least it has been something we have shared as a family. The theatre has created a tighter bond with our family that has filled me with pride watching Emily, Everett, and Danika grow and shine as performers. 

Everett has fallen in love with theatre and already revealed his dream of performing in Stratford and Broadway. He has proven to be a diverse actor able to embody many different types of roles, but the impressive part is his quick growth as a singer and dancer. When he loves something, he has proven to have a dedication to the work that would impress ants -- if ants were capable of such emotion. He also has a spooky ability to memorize every song and line even in scenes that he is not in, and I'm convinced he could have easily taken over any role, even though he wouldn't have been a very believable Dowager Empress. He played Alexei and he owned it by putting a lot of character and emotion into making his scenes matter.

Danika is a star. Simple as that. She obviously has a lot that she can improve on, but when some talk about natural stage presence or the ability to take command of a scene, Danika owns that. She is a natural, and she was a very adorable Little Anastasia, even if I confess to some extreme bias.

Emily would be similar to me in that a year ago being on a stage was not something she considered. Then she was persuaded during our first audition, and she has proven like almost anything she does that she is brilliant at it. She already has a beautiful voice, but it has been really fun watching her turn into a character and really give personality to her roles. It has been a treasure sharing the stage with her and being able to play off her.

I've had a complicated emotional relationship with musical theatre. I am always energized to be part of any creative process and I love performing in front of an audience. It is a treasure to bring joy and entertainment while pouring gallons of happiness into a person's life when they need it most. But I also often struggle with feeling inadequate compared to my immensely gifted cast and family members, This time around I struggled leading up to opening night knowing that I wouldn't have a mic, which seemed to reinforce every negative internal voice and crippling self-doubt.

Then I got on the stage and performed that first night, and it didn't matter. I felt the audience's energy and got to do something that made my spirit soar. The stage is my mana. It gives me joy much like creative writing or podcasting, but in a different and unique form. Creativity is a defining part of me, and performing is now an essential ingredient in the life-giving potion. I got better after every show, and each one was a massive rush of adrenaline. I definitely struggle at times wondering if other cast members actually believe I am any good, especially when it comes to singing, but when I'm performing, none of those thoughts exist. The stage is my happy place.

There are swirling dreams of one day landing a lead role. I'm still the distance of Mars away from such ambitions. There is a chance that it may not ever happen, but trying to reach those goals by improving with my current roles delivers great fun and joy. The journey is more important than the destination. A year ago, I never thought anyone would allow me on a stage where I had to sing, yet here I am with two musicals on my resume. If my current musical journey has taught me anything you don't know what you're capable of achieving until you take that chance. Consider the next few years taking a chance as I eye potential far-into-the-future roles such as Orin Scrivello DDS, Edna Turnblad, and Harold Hill.

I was gifted some heartfelt and genuine ego-boosting compliments during my run with Anastasia. Several very kind audience members took the time to mention they loved my stage presence and energy, and they were impressed by my expression and acting. A few even mentioned that I was part of some of their favourite scenes, and I was able to get big laughs throughout the run. The best part is I was trying for those laughs rather than horribly failing at bringing the drama. If one of those kindhearted audience members is reading things, your compliments meant a lot and it made my day.

I am going to miss Anastasia. I didn't know much about the musical before our first rehearsal and didn't have any emotional attachment to it. But after being part of this production since March, I have now fallen in love with it. It is an underrated musical that if you didn't come to see it this time, I encourage you to track it down when it comes near you in the future. It is filled with catchy musical numbers, it has many great humourous moments, it is packed with powerful drama, and it really is a great emotional roller coaster. It is a heartfelt tale about finding yourself and the powerful bonds of family.

Malakai Fox, one of the leads and the director, did an amazing job crafting a great visual story. I loved watching him be meticulous in using early scenes to build to bigger moments later in the show, and carefully find ways to develop characters and raise the stakes for the big moments. He paid great attention to the little details of having an interaction early on so it lends greater impact to a future scene, and it is one of those things that not every audience member will catch, but it made it a richer experience for many. It is a vibrant story that captures the imagination even if the finer details were lost by a few, which is a sign of a gifted director. You can learn to enhance the art of storytelling and creation by engaging with talented people, and it has been a privilege watching Malakai conjure his magic.

Marissa Kate Wilson was our Anastasia, but also our musical director. Without her hard work and commitment, it wouldn't have turned out as stirring and beautiful as it did. She also does so much hard work behind the scenes including the costumes and thousands of things I don't know about.

It really is the people that make being in a musical memorable. I have praised him before, but again I want to say that not only is Rob Curwain a magnetic and charismatic performer who does so much promotional and behind-the-scenes volunteer work, but his greatest contribution may be his kindness and how quickly he makes everyone feel welcomed. Rob's treatment of others constantly reminds me that I can be a much better person, and he makes the world a much better place.

Katyn Monk is not only an acting and singing powerhouse that elevated our entire show, but she became a bit of a theatre grandma for my kids. I am always grateful for her kindness and warmth to them, and it was an honour to share a stage with such a brilliant and talented performer and a generous and kind person. My kids love her and were a bit sad to realize she won't be in every show we put on.

I met Andy Dominick at the first rehearsal, and it has been such a blessing getting to know him. We share a love of movies and 1980s/1990s pop culture. which has made it easier to connect with him. He is always quick to offer tips or lend a helping hand. He also put in so much work creating our sets while also putting on an unforgettable performance as Gleb. I even got to interact with him on the stage, which has been an easy theatre highlight.

Alannah Taylor and Jessica Heikkinen are two of the sweetest and most caring people you'll ever meet. It is impossible not to love them. I was blessed to perform many scenes with Jessi. Both are amazingly talented and are part of what is one of the funniest scenes in the whole show.

Speaking of talent, I always love watching Meghan Chambers perform, and she will always embody Lily for me. She constantly offered my family different costumes to help us out and never shied away from being there for anyone. Another amazing human being that I have been blessed to know, and a major reason why my big scene was so successful with audiences.

I have to mention Colby Reynold who was my fellow solider and drunk, and I love seeing him become friends with Everett as they bonded over a shared love of Magic: The Gathering. 

Also a shout out to Marleigh White who did an incredible job choreographing a musical number and did a great ballet sequence with the equally talented Braedyn Edwards. They are two very cool young people who I've had a blast getting to know better.

Of course, the show doesn't work without lighting and sound. Several people worked hard in that area but I want to make a special shout-out to Susan Heslop and Jill P Pye, who it has been a pleasure getting to know better through the show run. They are both very energetic and encouraging people who are immensely talented and worked hard to make the show extra special. Jill also is responsible for a huge portion of the terrific photos in this post. 

Everyone in this cast is so kind and inviting. I have a cherished memory with each of them, even if I've decided not to drag out this piece by listing every single person. It has been an experience I'll always treasure. 

Good-bye Anastasia. You will be missed, but we will always have Paris together.