Photo: Evan Zimmerman
Photo: Evan Zimmerman

Anastasia Proves a 90s Heroine for the Ages

As a girl born in the 90s, I spent my childhood watching some of the best Disney characters on screen. They proved to be role models that I and many other girls could look up to: female protagonists that were not damsels in distress, but strong women who radiate confidence.

Some favorites include Mulan, Pocahontas and Meg from Hercules. But one occasionally overlooked 90s heroine who is just as fearless as the rest is Anastasia. Perhaps overshadowed in the past, Anastasia now has a leg up on the other Disney ladies with a musical of her very own.

Anastasia the Musical is the Broadway adaptation of the 1997 film and was written by Terrence McNally with a score from Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. While first making it to the big stage back in April 2017, the musical is now a month into its U.S. national tour with a DC stop at the Kennedy Center running through November 25. We sat down with Lila Coogan, staring in the titular role, to talk about taking a Broadway show on the road, 90s Disney heroines and what it’s like to play a fierce female role like Anya/Anastasia.

On Tap: You’re at the beginning of a tour that runs until fall of next year. What has the tour been like so far?
Lila Coogan: So far it’s been really fun and crazy. Traveling is always exciting and getting to perform in new venues is a wild experience, especially for me; I’ve never toured before. My body’s adjusting to the touring lifestyle, that’s for sure! But we’re meeting new people every day and learning all the different backstage pathways and it’s just so fun and I’m really enjoying it.

OT: How does it feel to bring a big production like this on the road as opposed to performing it in the same theater every night?
LC: When you’re performing in the same theater every night, one of the biggest differences is actually that you have a space in the theater that is yours. You get one when you’re touring, but it depends. In DC, we’ll be there for a month, so that will get real home-y real quick, but for example, we’re only here [Greenville, South Carolina] for a week, so you’re kind of selective about what you do and don’t unpack. You kind of have to figure out what you need versus what you want [laughs], things like that. And that’s an adjustment, but it’s fun and exciting, and at least you’re never in the same spot every time.

OT: How does changing venues so many times alter the production?
LC: Luckily we use the same actual stage – it’s called a deck and we travel with our deck wherever we go which is really cool. So no matter where we are, we’re on the same stage essentially, which is a comfort for the actors [laughs]. But because the backstage area is so much smaller sometimes, you have to adjust where you’re waiting around for your entrances or how soon you get to the deck before scene, just little things like that.

OT: Anya/Anastasia is such an iconic role, especially for those of us who grew up watching the Disney movie as kids – what has it been like to bring that animated character from a 90s movie to life?
LC: She’s so much fun. I absolutely adored the 1997 film, so she was like my favorite heroine. She was so spunky and sassy and that was me growing up – I was so thrilled to see a girl like that, a princess nonetheless. And when I found out that they were making this a musical I was so, so excited for it. I went to see it right when it opened [on Broadway] and I just loved it and I thought, this is the type of woman I want young girls to see on stage, just kicking butt [laughs].

OT: What are some differences between the film and the musical?
LC: The film is very rooted in fantasy and otherworldliness in a way, like with Rasputin and the talking bat. Our musical has that same quality, but it’s rooted in reality and real people. There’s no underworld-Rasputin villain or talking bats, but you get people who are actually struggling with real-life dilemmas and still having that mystery and adventure behind it – as to whether Anya is the princess Anastasia.

OT: What do you think or hope kids who will see Anastasia will think of this musical and Anya’s character?
LC: I want every person who comes to see this musical to leave feeling like they can do anything they want to do, and that no matter who they are there is a home for them.

OT: Kids these days have a lot more empowering female characters to look up to like Elsa and Anna from Frozen and Moana; this character is from the 90s but she still fits in with these characters that are much newer.
LC: I think the film kind of set the precedent that you don’t have to necessarily be one way to be a princess. I am in no way, shape or form knocking other princesses – I actually think every princess is good for every girl and there’s a princess out there for everyone – but for me, as a rambunctious, spunky, kind of tomboy growing up, seeing her as a princess in the 90s made me think ‘I could be a princess too!’ And I hope that she continues to do that today.

OT: Does the musical use the songs from the movie or are there new ones?
LC: I believe there are 21 songs total, and there’s only like five from the movie that are in the musical, but if you like the music from the movie, you’ll love the music in the musical because it’s the same writing team. And some of the other songs in the movie have been repurposed into the musical.

OT: After DC’s leg of the tour, you have a huge chunk of tour dates left – is there anything or any place you’re especially excited for?
LC: I’m excited to go everywhere honestly [laughs]. DC was actually one [I was excited about]; I always wanted to perform at the Kennedy Center, so to get to do that is an absolute dream come true, and with this show especially. I’m also super excited for San Fran because I have family there so that’ll be great!

Catch Anastasia the Musical at the Kennedy Center, running through November 25. Tickets start at $59. Run time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. Learn more about Anastasia the Musical at www.anastasiathemusical.com. Digital lottery tickets are also available,  offering fans the chance to purchase up to two tickets for $30 each available per performance. For more information on the lottery, go to www.luckyseat.com/anastasia.

The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

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Natalia Kolenko

Natalia is a George Mason University alum who studied Journalism and Environmental Science and Politics. She combines her background in news reporting with her love for music, art, and culture to write pieces on a variety of topics. Addicted to travel, X-files, and concerts.