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Black ‘Anastasia’ takes the stage at Opera House

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Black ‘Anastasia’ takes the stage at Opera House
Kyla Stone as Anya in "Anastasia." PHOTO: JEREMY DANIEL

The Broadway tour of “Anastasia” opens at the Citizens Bank Opera House on Aug. 17, featuring Black actresses as the title character for the first time. The show opens in Boston with Kyla Stone in the role; Veronica Stern takes over in the second week of performances.

“Anastasia” follows a young woman in Russia during the 1920s, searching for a past she can’t remember with the help of a few lovable sidekicks, a dashing con man and a bumbling aristocrat.

Veronica Stern will take over the role of Anya during the second week of performances. COURTESY PHOTO

Stern remembers watching the animated adaptation of the story as a child; hearing the original actress who played the Broadway role perform inspired her to attend University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. In a way, she now comes full circle, playing the role that inspired her to pursue a career in music and theater to begin with.

“It’s a really unique story, because she’s a princess that is brave and excited about what’s to come,” says Stern. “I thought it was a unique opportunity to play such a strong and empowering young woman.”

The Broadway rendition utilizes a book by playwright Terrence McNally (author of “Ragtime” and others), a score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (the same producers of the music for the 1997 animated film) and direction by Tony Award-winner Darko Tresnjak. The uplifting story is full of humor, romance and a search for ones place in the world, politely skirting over the darker, more violent realities of the Russian revolution and the demise of the Romanov family.

Sam McLellan (Dmitry) and Kyla Stone (Anya) in The North American Tour of
Anastastia. PHOTO: JEREMY DANIEL

Stone made history as the first Black woman to play Anastasia, and Stern will continue that legacy as the second. Stern says she was inspired by Brittney Johnson, the first Black actress to play Glinda in “Wicked.” Seeing that made her realize that barriers all across Broadway could be broken. In a production that mines the themes of finding ones place in the world and breaking down societal expectations, bringing diversity to the casting adds a rich layer. Stern hopes her performance can do for other young viewers of color what Johnson’s performance did for her, unlock a world of possibilities.

“For so long, actors of color have been told, ‘You will play the Black role’ or ‘You will play the role that is the exact same color as your skin,’” says Stern. I was lucky enough to grow up in a time where we were starting to break that mold and say, ‘You can be a princess, you can be anything you want to be, it’s possible.’”

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