Alberta Youth Theatre Collective reviews Anastasia at Millwoods Christian School

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The Edmonton Journal is proud to host reviews of local high school theatrical productions, written by student reviewers through the Alberta Youth Theatre Collective. Reviews of past shows can be found here

By Karolina Guzman Smyl
Mother Margaret Mary High School

A Mesmerizing Journey to the Past by Millwoods Christian School.

Step into the dazzling world of Anastasia, brought to life by MCS theatre program. This enchanting production was directed by the talented Orysia Burdette and Serena Rae Stein. Book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Anastasia is based on the beloved animated film and the 1956 movie. The story takes the audience on a captivating journey from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s. Anastasia tells the story of Anya, a young woman with no memory of her past, who embarks on a quest to discover her true identity. Along the way, she meets a charming conman named Dmitry and a lovable former aristocrat, Vlad, who join her on her adventure. As she searches for her family, Anya unearths secrets, faces dangerous adversaries, and ultimately finds love and a sense of belonging.

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In her role as Anya, Cianna Chin delivered a breathtaking performance, blending vulnerability and strength with grace. Her soaring vocals in songs like Journey to the Past and Once Upon a December captivated the audience, leaving them in awe. Opposite her, Minchan Choi portrayal of Dimitry was both charismatic and heartfelt, his chemistry with Cianna created a compelling dynamic. Their duet, In a Crowd of Thousands, was a highlight of the evening, showcasing their undeniable connection. The supporting cast shone brightly as well. Daniel Elgot’s Vlad brought humour and warmth to the production, his comedic timing impeccable, especially during the number Land of Yesterday. Meanwhile, Jennelle Gray’s portrayal of the Dowager Empress was regal and poignant, her performance in Close the Door evoked deep emotion. From a class of 61 (10 on tech and 51 actors), each student had been given the chance to showcase many talents, focussing on different aspects of the show and working on designs of every technical element.

The technical aspects of the show were equally impressive. The set design, with its innovative set pieces which included three rotatable pieces, took the audience from the grandeur of the Russian palace to the bustling streets of Paris. Each of the costumes were wonderfully crafted, reflecting the elegance of the early 20th century. The lighting design and colour schemes intertwining with the many emotions added a magical touch to key moments, enhancing the atmosphere. There was one scene which really caught the audience’s attention, that being the transformation of the stage from a train station to a moving train, where actors collaborated to create a mosaic of a lively train.

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Millwoods Christian School’s Anastasia was a triumph, a testament to the dedication and talent of its cast and crew. The production beautifully captured the essence of the story, blending romance, adventure, and history into a mesmerizing theatrical experience. Watching these students bring this beloved tale to life was truly inspiring, and I eagerly anticipate future performances from this remarkable theatre program.

Anastasia Millwoods Christian
Millwood Christian School’s Anastasia. Photo credit to Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. 2024 edm

By Daniel Said Tanash
Mother Margaret Mary High School

Once Upon a Dazzling Show from Millwoods Christian School.

“Have you heard? There’s a rumour in St. Petersburg!” Millwoods Christian School put on an enthralling production of Anastasia. The story is set in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, long after the Romanov royal family was executed when rumours spread that the youngest daughter, Anastasia, survived. The audience follows Anya (Cianna Chin), an amnesiac trying to find her past. She meets Dimitry (Minchan Choi) and Vlad (Daniel Elgot) who believe she is the lost princess, so they agree to help her get to Paris. In the meantime, a Soviet officer named Gleb (Charlie Schmeichel) keeps a careful eye, wanting to fulfill his father’s wish to destroy the monarchy. The show is riddled with enchanting performances, vibrant dances, and brilliant tech work, culminating in a powerful journey to the past.

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The lead performers visibly put their souls in the show, each character had a strong stage presence and managed to keep the audience engaged the entire time. Chin’s angelic and magical voice swept the audience off their feet during the entire show, especially in Once Upon a December. Contrasting with Choi’s suave and energetic energy, the two had potent chemistry; not to forget his work on choreography. Elgot’s bubbly personality gave the audience a hearty laugh, and along with the bold Suzanne Englefield as Lily, stole the audience’s heart. Schmeichel managed to grasp the deep complexity of his morally grey character. Conclusively, the ensemble brought the show together. Every character on stage felt alive and part of the story, the audience noticed little interactions going on during scenes in their striking stage pictures like while in the train and on the streets, as well as their incredible harmonies in songs like We’ll Go From There. Overall, all the actors bewitched the audience with their commitment and talent.

Of course, the show wouldn’t be the same without the genius tech. The costumes team made an effort to make them historically accurate to great success, especially the Soviet soldier outfits. To show such diverse backgrounds, detailed and immersive three-sided set-pieces called periaktoi were used. The lighting team was spot on with a spotlight to highlight actors and matching colours to the story’s tone. The props were intricate and memorable, especially the music box. The audio was seamless, making the show feel fluid. Finally, there were many student choreographers who made the dances so dynamic. Jenaya Friesen used her ballet experience to make Quartet at the Ballet and Kristina Kasengulu brought life to the Land of Yesterday and Paris Holds The Key. The rest were done collaboratively, a testament to how far teamwork can go.

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All in all, Millwood’s production of Anastasia took the audience through a perilous journey of enlightenment and self-discovery through the hard work and dedication of all 61 people in the cast and crew!

Anastasia Millwoods Christian
Millwood Christian School’s Anastasia. Photo credit to Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. 2024 edm

By Katie Schultz
Louis St. Laurent High School

Once Upon a May, Millwoods Christian School put on a captivating performance of Anastasia The Musical. The mystical and hopeful story that held the key to the hearts of all our childhoods is that of Anastasia, and this cast and crew certainly lived up to our expectations.

Written by Terrence McNally, this comedic historical romance is about post-revolution Russia as they try to hunt down the last Romanov princess who is rumoured to have survived the assassination of her family. Young Anya is on a journey of self-discovery and survival when she comes across Dimitry and Vlad, a scheming duo with intentions of seeking a life better than the ones they are living. After convincing Anya that she is the lost princess Anastasia Romonov, the two men start to think that the lie holds more truth than they thought. On a journey to Paris, the characters of this play strive for love, understanding, and acceptance of who they are and who they used to be.

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Even on a stage so full of talented performers, there were a few that truly stood out to the audience. Notably, Minchan Choi who played Dimitry, his portrayal of Dimitry’s complex development was so well done and he had the incredible voice to go along with it. Cianna Chin, who played Anya, and Choi had such genuine chemistry that many were moved to tears. Especially in moments like In A Crowd Of Thousands, it was so believable that the people in front of us were two kids remembering they’d met before in what seemed to be another lifetime. Another spectacular performance was from Suzanne Englefield who played the prideful Countess Lily, the devoted Vlad’s love interest. Englefield had a powerful stage presence that demanded all eyes were on her. Her voice was strong and her character was correctly portrayed as a high-and-mighty individual who was all too stuck in the past, that is until she is reunited with her “common man” and we can see in Englefield’s performance that the present suddenly doesn’t seem all that bad.

When it comes to putting on period pieces there is always a high-risk factor, but MCS Theatre might as well have transported us back to 1927. All of the thought put into the costumes, the props, the sets, and the colouring was more than effective in removing the audience from the real world for a few moments. From the elaborate Romanov ball gowns to the Bolshevik jackets to the earth-toned commoner clothes, it was impossible to spot a modern aspect of this performance. It is important to note that the cast and crew of MCS had to move to a secondary theatre location on their show week, which included the transportation of their spectacular Periaktoi set pieces and the last-minute crafting of light designs that would typically take months to create.

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Overall, this was certainly the show of the century. Anastasia, a musical of magic, nostalgia, and the challenges of love and identity, was so well translated into something new by Millwoods Christian School that it was captivating even for those too familiar with the Broadway show. We are all impatiently waiting for whatever performance they will put on next.

Anastasia Millwoods Christian
Millwood Christian School’s Anastasia. Photo credit to Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. 2024 edm

By Tessa Musiiwa
Mother Margaret Mary High School

Only three months ago, Millwoods Christian School sought to “Learn to Do It”. With a breathtaking set, choreography, and the 61 individuals in the cast and crew they truly succeeded. The story takes place in 1920s Russia and is based on the movie of the same name. The plot follows Anya on her adventure of self-discovery. Despite her amnesia, with the help of Dimitry (Minchan Choi) and Vlad (Daniel Elgot), she’s able to embark herself and the audience on “a journey to the past”.

The quality with which the actors portrayed their characters is applaudable. In My Dreams was among the standout numbers performed by Chin, with beautifully sung vocals. What began as a mutual hatred between Anya and Dimitry transformed into something beautiful leaving the audience in awe. In the ballad Learn to Do It a connection was sparked between the enemies and executed by the actors’ undeniable chemistry. There was also Lily (Suzanne Englefield) whose reconciliation on stage with Vlad contrasted with the perfect trifecta of pain, rage, and serenity. Gleb (Charlie Schmeichel), the main antagonist, had the ability to grasp the entire audience with his raw emotion. Everyone had a role to play and Stay I Pray You demonstrated that as it unified everyone on stage and off as they sang harmoniously in unison, showing the unbreakable bonds they had all formed within these short three months.

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Viewing all of the beautiful dance formations from the upper level of the theatre was an experience of its own. Kristina Kasengulu choreographed both Paris Holds The Key and Land of Yesterday, the latter which was taught in 3 days and incorporated authentic 1920s-charleston dance moves. Kasengulu was not the sole choreographer in this show, Jenaya Friesen choreographed one of the most impressive pieces utilizing her ballet experience. Additionally, many individuals worked together to create the wonderfully executed dances. The detail in the 100+ costume pieces was phenomenal and were well crafted by their costume team. The Bolsheviks’ costumes resembled Gymnastyorka uniforms, giving a sense of authenticity. The choice of colours for Anya provided visualization to her development by manipulating different shades of purple. And then there was the set, consisting of three backdrops that rotated in triangular patterns. It made for impressively quick scene changes and the hand-painted backdrops helped make for a gorgeous reveal as the trio finally made it to Paris. All of this showed how important the environment of a production is to help establish a setting.

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Millwoods Christian School‘s Anastasia was a hit made from caring, determination, and unity. From the enthralling acting to the handcrafted costumes and set, this production took everyone on a journey. Even against the odds, this group of 61 made an incredible show, proving that anything is possible.

Anastasia Millwoods Christian
Millwood Christian School’s Anastasia. Photo credit to Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. 2024 Photo by ‘RED SOCKS PHOTOGRAPHY DARLA WOO /edm

By Kaylee Karpinski
Louis St. Laurent High School

Since the first line was delivered, we were all transported to the enchanting world where history met harmony, mystery met melody, and identity and romance flew through the audience as we watched Millwoods Christian School Theatre’s production of Anastasia the Musical. This show left all of us spellbound and speechless with their magnificent characterization during this period piece, clearly showcasing their passion and dedication to the performance. The entire cast created an unforgettable experience, manifesting an atmosphere where we all were left breath taken by the mystery behind the musical.

The story follows Anya, a young woman with amnesia as she travels throughout post-revolutionary Russia, trying to discover her true identity. She meets two young conmen, who create a scheme against the Dowager Empress to convince her that Anya is the long-lost Anastasia Romanov, thought to be dead. Anya, Dimitry, and Vlad journey to Paris, where they discover that she may be the true Grand Duchess and the sole survivor of the attack on her family. Hope, romance, and identity glide through the air while Anya reclaims her past.

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The characters and their emotion towards line delivery and song were a major component in this piece as they delivered the mystery and meaning behind the musical. These factors were clearly provided by Cianna Chin, who played Anya, and Minchan Choi, who played Dimitry. Through their marvellous dedication to the production, we were able to transparently see her character and truly understand the show. Chin embodied her role so perfectly with depth and emotion that it gave the entire audience chills. Not to mention her striking singing voice that shook the souls of everyone watching. Through the mind-blowing performance from Choi, the entire musical was sent to a different level, highlighting his effort to his role as one of impressive attention. He excellently delivered his lines and songs with incredible passion. They were both amazingly cast in their roles, revealing the mystery and chilling atmosphere of the musical. Some cast members even went above and beyond without saying any lines, such as the ballerinas and crew. The performance included a live ballet dance executed by five talented people, choreographed by competitive ballerina, Jenaya Friesen, who magically applied the breath-taking technique to the musical. The outstanding student crew was the backbone of the success of this musical and truly deserves respect for their hard work and commitment.

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The atmosphere during this performance was unforgettable and loveable in all aspects and depth. The entire cast delivered history in the most musical way possible while keeping the heritage and identity clear. The adorable romance and mystery kept this play alive and showed us the different perspectives of this piece. MCS created a performance that will never be forgotten and truly captures the history of Anastasia Romanov.

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