Original Broadway Cast, 1965 (United Artists/Kritzerland) (3 / 5) What Robert Wright and George Forrest had previously done successfully with Grieg and Borodin, they did with Rachmaninoff in creating a musical based on the play Anastasia, the story of the woman who claimed to be the only surviving member of the Romanov family assassination. Rachmaninoff’s music was well suited to a piece with action that takes place shortly after the Russian Revolution, and while fans of that music in its original form might find this adaptation hard to take, it’s a lush, beautifully sung, latter-day operetta. Although the show was plodding onstage, the recording is very entertaining. Constance Towers and Michael Kermoyan are excellent in all of their songs, particularly in “My Kind of Love” (the melody had previously served as the basis for the popular hit “Full Moon and Empty Arms”) and the dramatic “Six Palaces” (in which Anya is drilled on the “facts” of her life). Irra Petina, the grande dame of the “floperetta” genre, is a joy in the comic “Leben Sie Wohl” and “On That Day,” and she also leads the haunting “Homeward.” For camp value, there is Lillian Gish as the Grand Duchess, “reciting” lyrics to a vocalise sung by Towers as Anya. Billed as “The Musical Musical,” the show was one of the late-career flops of director George Abbott, who also collaborated on the book with Guy Bolton. (This was Bolton’s final Broadway credit.) The cast album notes detail which Rachmaninoff pieces have been adapted for each song. There are also two songs listed on the back of the original LP jacket that are not actually on the album; they were cut from the show during previews and, from all reports, weren’t recorded. — Jeffrey Dunn
Studio Casts, 1992-1998 (Bay Cities/Original Cast Records) (2 / 5) These recordings are not just Anya with two pianos. When it became clear that the 1965 production was going to close on Broadway after 16 performances, director and co-librettist George Abbott graciously ceded all of the rights to Wright and Forrest. The musical was revised and produced regionally as A Song for Anastasia and The Anastasia Game. A recording titled The Anastasia Affaire, based on a production at the Merrimack Theatre in Massachusetts, was released in 1992 and quickly went out of print. In 1998, with the title now changed to Anastasia: The Musical, the CD was reissued with bonus tracks of six “premiere recordings” of Wright and Forrest songs from other shows. The majority of the Rachmaninoff melodies used for Anya were used again in the revisions, but most of them were given new lyrics and made to serve new dramatic functions. While the Broadway score leaned heavily toward “nouveau operetta,” the final version is definitely a chamber musical with two-piano accompaniment, well handled by Albin Konopka and Seth Rudetsky. The principal singers are Judy Kaye, Regina Resnik, Len Cariou, Steve Barton, George Lee Andrews, Walter Willison, and David Green, all in top form. The story of Anastasia is more clearly discerned from the songs in the new version; still, the original Broadway cast album of Anya, with its grand orchestrations and operatic singing, is a more enjoyable listen. — J.D.