When Anastasia originally came out as a movie, I like to think it was a simpler time. A children's movie about a lost princess could be just that. But in modern days? With issues much more polarized, the room for strong female characters expanding, and all those little girls who grew up on Anastasia who now wanted a grown up Anastasia, things had to change.
And change they did. I've seen the movie only once and while I'm a frequent flier at the Broadhurst (if I come see the show one more time I think I'm legally entitled to a free smoothie) I still know a few of the differences. Most obviously, they took out the mystical zombie/ghoul Rasputin as the villian (which also meant removing one of the greatest villian songs in history) and replacing him with a Russian officer who's father was part of the firing squad that killed the Romanovs.
When Anya is in danger, she saves herself. The male hero, Dmitri, is nowhere to be seen. She also doesn't use force, she uses nothing but her mind and her words to psychologically dismantle the threat. Then she decides her future, she decides who her prince is, no one else makes those decisions for her. But while I love strong female characters, that's not even the most political the show gets.
The eighth song in the show is called Stay, I Pray You. It occurs at the train station right before they board along with all the others who the new adminstration wants dead- nobility and intellectuals. It features an ensemble of characters, from a count who drops to his knee and kisses Anya's hand, presumably being the first to recognize her to older women and even a young family, complete with a child and an expecting mother who if you watch, puts a hand on her bump and clearly is thinking about how her baby will never know her motherland.
The song is eerie, not just because it starts acapella or because it recycles one of the melodies from In The Dark Of The Night so even if you don't consciously pick up on it, you probably unconsciouslyy do and are left feeling unsettled. But the bigger reason it's eerie is because it's so timely. Refugees are having to flee their own authoritarian governments and for all of us who are in America and are not Native Americans, at some point our families had to leave behind our homelands. My father's family came to escape the shambles of the European economy after World War II, and my mother's family had to flee Missouri for Utah, which at the time was not a state, after the governor signed an extermination order against Mormons. They had to pack up their family history into a handcart and walk across the plains to find safety against a government that wasn't protecting their rights.
Even outside of that, though, the show tackles serious issues. It does a deep dive into the Dowager Empress's grief at losing her entire family and the pain of the fake Anastasias writing letter after letter to try and get the Romanov fortune. It explores Gleb's feelings of having to live up to his father's legacy versus shooting an unarmed woman. We learn more about Dmitri's backstory, this time having been orphaned at a young age and growing up on the street- a stark contrast to Anastasia's upbringing. Even Vlad and Sophie (renamed Lily in the musical version) get fresh life breathed into them with new songs as well.
Overall, the show is a beautiful work of art, still being child appropriate but also distinctly having grown up since the movie, with the subtlest political message on Broadway right now besides, perhaps, Come From Away.