The musical “Anastasia” is the story of a young woman who finds herself alone in the world, uncertain not only about her future, but also about her past.
It’s something that Madeline Kendall, who will be playing the title role when the Broadway touring production of “Anastasia” comes to Tulsa, understands all too well.
Kendall, who was born in South Korea, was adopted by a New Jersey family when she was 7 months old.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate because I have the most incredible family,” Kendall said. “But I know that I could have struggled a great deal with who I really am, why I was given away, trying to find my true self.
“So I understand how Anastasia feels, about searching for her true identity,” she said. “I also like the fact that her search ends up making her a strong and independent woman, who makes the choices she does because they are the best for her.”
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The musical “Anastasia” is adapted from the 1997 animated film of the same name, which was inspired by the legend that grew up around the possible fate of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, the youngest daughter of the Romanovs, the family that ruled Russia before the Communist Revolution.
Tsar Nicholas II and his family were ultimately executed in July 1918, but for years rumors circulated that, somehow, Anastasia had not only survived but had escaped Russia.
It wasn’t long before several women claimed to be Anastasia, although none could provide solid proof of their claims. (The case was ultimately closed in 2007, when DNA tests of the Romanov family corpses proved that Anastasia had been executed in 1918 with the rest of her family.)
Musical theater, however, is not as beholden to facts as historical records and courts of law. In the world of “Anastasia,” the rumor that the young duchess evaded executive turns out to be true, and the girl’s grandmother, now living in Paris, offers a huge reward to anyone who can reunite her with Anastasia.
When word of the reward reaches Russia, a pair of con artists decide to find a naive girl and groom her to impersonate Anastasia and claim the money. They are about to despair of finding a suitable subject when a young woman named Anya enters their office.
Her remarkable resemblance to the missing royal, and the fact that she suffers from amnesia and has little recollection of her past, make her the perfect candidate for their scheme. However, the true pasts of Anastasia and one of the con men, Dmitri, will connect in ways that complicate everything.
That Kendall will be portraying Anya/Anastasia during the show’s Tulsa run is a bit out of the ordinary.
“Kyla Stone (who is topped billed in the role) is taking a few weeks off to do another project,” Kendall said. “There are three understudies for the role, so each of us will get a week to play the lead.”
In her usual role, Kendall is a member of the show’s ensemble, and performs a number of roles throughout the production, from playing one of the doomed Romanov daughters to being one of women auditioning to be the false Anastasia.
This won’t be Kendall’s first time to play the lead role.
“We were in Albuquerque, and I got a call around midnight that I was going on as Anastasia the next day,” Kendall recalled. “My roommate is a swing performer, who would have to cover all my roles, so we basically stayed up all night and went through the whole show together in our hotel room.
“It was crazy and nerve-wracking to say the least,” she said, laughing. “Fortunately, our cast and crew are great, and you know that they’re cheering you on and making sure you have whatever you need to do well on stage.”
Kendall is the first Asian-American to play the role of Anastasia, just as Kyla Stone is the first African-American in the role. Kendall said this is simply a reflection of the diversity of the show’s cast, rather than any sort of statement by the creative team.
“If anything, I think it makes the show even more relatable,” Kendall said. “It shows you that anyone can go through this journey of searching for their identity. It’s something I think we all do in one way or another, and it has nothing to do with race or culture anything.
“But still,” Kendall said, “it is super special for me to be the first Asian to do the role. I’ve had a lot of kids reach out to me after a performance, to say how much it meant for them to see ‘a princess who looks like me’ on stage.”