By Matt Poliachik
Theatre can impact people in a variety of ways. It can inspire. It can entertain. It can educate. It can be an escape. However, in rare and wonderful cases, it can do all of those things and more. It can save someone. It can even have such a profound impact on their life that they can thank that piece of theatre for where they are in their lives right now. For me, all of this has been exemplified with the Broadway production of Anastasia, by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.
When I first saw Broadway’s Anastasia on April 14, 2017, I didn’t know what I was getting into. Although I had seen the film, it had been a while since I’d seen it, and I knew the stage version was vastly different. What I didn’t realize, however, was the profound impact this show would have on my life. For me, Anastasia became more than a show: it became a miracle. During late 2016, I had entered an incredibly dark place. Multiple events happened that had me feeling insecure in my own skin and body, and I was burdened with debilitating fear of the events happening in the world. However, something happened that would start to change this. I entered the Broadhurst Theatre, and as soon as the downbeat hit, I felt completely different than I had in a long time. I felt safe. The feeling of safety I had not felt in months surrounded me as the beautiful costumes, amazing set, and transporting music filled the theatre. That feeling has not left me. Over the past two years, through interactions with various cast members, crew members, and Broadhurst Theatre staff, Anastasia has become my home away from home, and a safe place for me to escape from all of life’s scariness.
Perhaps the three most recognizable words in the show are “home, love, family.” These words are sung in the Act I finale (and arguably the show’s most iconic song), “Journey to the Past.” They especially hit home with me, because as I think about it, I realize that these words encompass a large piece of the impact this show has had on my life. I’d like to briefly talk about each of these here.
Home: As I have previously said, this show has become a home to me. The cast and Broadhurst staff have never failed to welcome me to my home away from home, and to help me feel safe and accepted (which is a feeling that has often been difficult to come by for me). When I am at Anastasia, the outside world doesn’t exist. I am completely encompassed into the beautiful world created onstage, and this world gives me comfort and makes me feel completely at home.
Love: One very important thing this show has done for me is to give me a love for myself. For most of my life, I have struggled with self-confidence. I have also been overcome with the feeling that I wasn’t good enough, and that my presence in this world was some kind of burden or hindrance. In fact, at some points, I didn’t even know who I really was. Does that sound familiar? Despite the fact that Anya has no one—and indeed, no memories of anything beyond being in a hospital and the name given to her by nurses—she is unapologetic about being herself. Even though she doesn’t know anything about who she is, or where she came from, she has a name, and she has air in her lungs. That’s enough for her. She doesn’t let anything anyone says stop her from being herself and embracing what is in front of her. That last part is especially important to me because it inspired me to do something I never thought I would do: go to college and study theatre. I am currently a theatre performance major at Sinclair College in Dayton, OH, because of this show. Not only that, but I’m doing well in school, too. All because I have the confidence to get out of bed in the morning and conquer the world. Anastasia has given me the self-love I needed to believe that I can do anything.
Family: This beautiful show has brought so many amazing people into my life, many of whom I consider an extension of my family. These people have celebrated with me through great times, and picked me up during harder times. In fact, I actually met my best friend, who I talk to nearly every day, through this show. In fact, we both call each other family. If not for Anastasia, we probably never would have met, and we wouldn’t have each other in our lives. Anastasia has given both of us a newfound extended family, which is such a precious gift.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I wrote a piece about Anastasia and did not speak about its illustrious leading lady. Christy Altomare is a bright star. She’s everything you want a Broadway star to be: she’s talented, she’s approachable, she shines like a star onstage. But what makes Christy so special to me is what she has done for me offstage. Over the past two years, Christy has become a mentor to me. Nearly every time I’ve spoken to her, she has given me some form of advice, whether it be performance advice or general life advice. Along with that, she has been there for me, made me feel safe when I felt scared, and even went out of her way last May to make my birthday one of the most special birthdays of my life. No matter how I’ve felt before seeing her on a given day, Christy has always been there with a hug to make the day better. In a world where so many of us are wrapped up in our own selves, to see someone so selfless and so caring of others’ well-being is incredibly rare. Christy Altomare is a gift to this planet, and we honestly need more people like her in the world.
Anastasia has been a precious gift in my life, and its effects will be felt for years to come (if not for the rest of my life). And, while the show will unfortunately be ending its Broadway run in March, what will not end are the memories that have come from the show, and the impact the show has had. Anastasia saved my life, and without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So to Anastasia, I say thank you. Thank you, Stephen. Thank you, Lynn. Thank you, Darko. Thank you, Christy. Thank you, home, love, family.
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)