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'Anastasia' Hits Broadway Just In Time for Tony Noms

When the Tony Award nominations are announced May 3, Connecticut will rejoice.

So many Broadway shows this season had world premieres, readings or workshops in the state that some warm reflective glow from Tony recognition is inevitable.

The musical "Anastasia," which had its world premiere at Hartford Stage a year ago, finally opens at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway April 24, just in time for Tony consideration. The show is directed by Hartford Stage's artistic director Darko Tresnjak, who won a Tony in 2014 for directing "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" — another show that world-premiered at Hartford Stage before Broadway.

"Anastasia" has a script by Terrence McNally ("Love! Valour! Compassion!," "Catch Me If You Can") and musical numbers by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who've greatly added to the stack of songs they wrote for the 1997 animated film on which this "Anastasia" is partly based.

Paula Vogel's historical drama "Indecent" opened April 18 at New York's Cort Theatre. This is the playwright's Broadway debut, following decades of distinguished work off-Broadway and at regional theaters. Not only did "Indecent" have its world premiere at New Haven's Yale Repertory Theatre in 2015, it had its roots in a show its director Rebecca Taichman created for her Yale School of Drama thesis project 16 years ago.

"The People vs. The God of Vengeance" explored a censorship trial involving a Yiddish theater troupe in early 20th-century New York. Taichman shared her research with Paula Vogel, who expanded the scope of the story and made it more about the theater than the courtroom. Between its Yale Rep world premiere and its Broadway berth, "Indecent" had an off-Broadway run last year.

"Come From Away," the community-building story of a small Canadian town that welcomed passengers on flights hastily rerouted from New York City on 9/11, was given a significant early reading at Goodspeed Musicals' 2013 Festival of New Artists. The show opened on Broadway in March. In a talk at the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals in January, "Come From Away" producer Michael Rubinoff recalled how the show interrupted its development process in Canada in order to seize the opportunity of a Goodspeed reading. "The Goodspeed festival got the longest version of the show at the time," Rubinoff recalled, saying the experience raised the work's visibility, and viability, to new levels.

The a cappella musical "In Transit," which ended its Broadway run earlier this month, was workshopped at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in 2008.

"Falsettos," which had a short run earlier this year and is a potential nominee for Best Revival of a Musical, combines two short musicals by William Finn, "March of the Falsettos" and "Falsettoland." It was Hartford Stage that first joined the two shows as one full-length evening, in 1991.

August Wilson's "Jitney," a likely nominee for Best Revival of a Play, was originally written in 1979, years before the playwright began his storied relationship with the O'Neill Center and Yale Rep. But Connecticut considers Wilson kin and will be rooting strongly for a "Jitney" Tony.

Director Bart Sher, who was associate artistic director of Hartford Stage in the 1990s before moving onto a series of Broadway successes, is expected to be nominated for helming the drama "Oslo."

Like Taichman, many other directors of Broadway shows this season are graduates of the Yale School of Drama, including Christopher Ashley ("Come From Away") and Trip Cullman ("Significant Other"). James Lapine, the director of "Falsettos," once taught design classes at the YSD. Mark Brokaw ("Heisenberg") runs the Yale Institute for Music Theatre.

Many current Broadway directors, designers and performers have worked in Connecticut at some point in their careers. It's an extremely long list, which would include everyone from Laura Linney ("Landscape of the Body" at Yale Rep in 1996) of "The Little Foxes" to Warren Carlyle ("The Baker's Wife" and "Pirates of Penzance," among others, for Goodspeed Musicals) of "Hello Dolly" to choreographer Peggy Hickey — who, besides "Anastasia," worked with Tresnjak on the Hartford Stage productions of "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Gentleman's Guide."

Some Broadway names are connected to Connecticut through their work. Others grew up here, or live here year-round. Justin Paul, co-creator of "Dear Evan Hansen" — the musical drama that is expected to do well at the Tonys — grew up in Westport and worked with Music Theatre of Connecticut in Fairfield County. (Paul's father is the pastor of Spiritual Life Fellowship in Bloomfield). Connecticut resident Patti Lupone stars in the cosmetics-themed musical "War Paint."

Changes For 'Anastasia'

"Anastasia" is shifting from Hartford Stage to Broadway with only one cast change among its leading performers. In an interview back in February, Tresnjak, when he was readying his Hartford Stage production of "The Comedy of Errors," said that he had insisted on such continuity.

Yet there have been other changes. "There are some new numbers. Some logistical choices had to be made. We analyzed every single aspect of it. We had about the same amount of work to do as with 'Gentleman's Guide' — in that show, one of the murders had to be completely reconceived."

Tresnjak confesses that, to him, Broadway isn't the be-all and end-all. "I really love my life in the regional theater." He says it was "exciting and surprising" when "Gentleman's Guide" experienced such great New York success. (The show's national tour played The Bushnell in October, and will return to Connecticut this October, at the Waterbury Palace.)

"I've mostly worked on classics, I guess, but it's wonderful to do new work," Tresnjak says. "Watching Lynn and Stephen craft a song because I said there was a need for something to be expressed … that's one moment where I felt like a muse."

Tony For Regional Theater

Besides honoring work on Broadway, a Tony Award is given annually for best regional theatre. Five Connecticut theaters have won that award: Long Wharf Theatre, Hartford Stage, Yale Repertory Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House and the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. That's more than any other state except Illinois (which also has five) and California (seven). In addition, special Tony Awards have been given to the O'Neill, the Goodspeed and the National Theatre of the Deaf.

There's a difference between doing exceptional work in your own community and operating as a conduit for commercial productions on Broadway. Connecticut theaters are important in both those worlds. While cultivating its own tastes and talent, the state is now routinely used as a try-out spot for new plays and musicals that already have New York in their sights, but the journey is seldom as direct as it was for "Anastasia."

"My Paris," a new musical about the painter Toulouse-Lautrec, had productions at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre and the Long Wharf Theatre, featuring New York talent. The Long Wharf is about to open "The Most Beautiful Room in New York," a musical set in a Union Square restaurant, with a script by Adam Gopnik and music by David Shire ("Baby," "Big"). While "Most Beautiful Room" does not have a commercial producer attached at this point in its development, its Big Apple breeding and themes should entice New Yorkers to New Haven.

After all, Connecticut is already packin' 'em in on Broadway.

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