Tolstoy’s tragic heroine meets her death on the train tracks, and trains run regularly in this bombastic Russian musical adaptation of the classic novel. But you might start to regret hopping on board when the show barely exits the station.
In a frenzy of strobe lights, giant wheels and cogs creak, and bodies twist atop a huge steam engine. A sinister MC in a silver leather station master’s uniform presides over this hellish spectacle, warning us that we’re all on a one-way ticket to the end of the line. He will appear regularly throughout the story to harass the characters and ultimately to lure poor Anna to her doom. Make no mistake: we went for a bumpy ride.
However, this is not a total wreck. Musicals are relatively new to Russia, and this one, shot at the Moscow Operetta Theater and performed in Russian with English subtitles, is not expected to make it to Broadway or the West End.
Still, Alina Chevik’s 2016 production has a certain chocolate box appeal. Yuliy Kim’s book and lyrics focus almost exclusively on the central love story between married, aristocratic Anna and the eligible Count Vronsky: don’t expect any of the original themes of philosophy, religion, or social progress. .
The music, by Roman Ignatyev, is a bit like listening to all the Eurovision songs, all at the same time. Big tear gas ballads crash into bouncy soft rock and pop. Meanwhile, the actors swirl and twirl in silk, velvet and furs, sliding on ice skates in snowstorms, dancing at balls, cuddling at the opera. Even the peasants in the wheat fields (owned by Levin, Tolstoy’s gentleman-farmer who is very devoted to the subplot here) are picturesque, brandishing their scythes with a ballet-like spirit of bustling balalaikas.
Ekaterina Guseva makes a graceful Anna, beautiful and delicate like a porcelain figurine, and Sergey Lee is a conceited and conceited Vronsky. However, there is no real chemistry between them, and the whole thing is far too sweet for a real passion of flesh and blood. It’s not quite a disaster – but one for collectors of musical theater curiosities only.