A musical perfect for the cold, wintry landscape of January in Michigan has arrived at the Wharton Center. The Broadway tour of “Anastasia,” the fictionalized tale of the royal Romanov family’s fate at the hands of the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution, run through Sunday. Jason Michael Evans, who plays lead antagonist Gleb, spoke by phone about his role and the production’s innovative visual set pieces.
How does “Anastasia” come to life visually on this tour?
It’s not just your typical set that moves in and moves out. While there are set pieces that come onto the stage, they’re joined by a giant HD screen that has these breathtaking projections.
In the sequence with the train, an actual train comes out onstage and it is turning and moving, but in the background there’s this screen that is moving high speed through the countryside of Russia. It makes you feel like you’re there.
That screen can also show you a beautiful opera house, or it can show you a palace and it can show you the streets of St.
Petersburg. But it’s not like a regular set— it moves. There’s snow, there’s clouds moving. If the Volga River is in the background, then you see the stream moving, you see it flowing.
Gleb is an insecure villain. He projects himself as being so certain about his politics, but on the inside he’s not sure of himself. As an actor, how do you convey that inner conflict?
I think he’s sure of the ideology of the Bolsheviks, but he’s unsure of his job within it. You find out pretty early on in the story that his father was one of the guards who carried out the assassination on the Romanovs and then later, out of shame, kills himself.
So Gleb’s a very conflicted guy. He’s looking to redeem his father’s legacy by carrying out the job his father couldn’t, but also trying to prove to himself that his father’s death was meaningful.
The way I approach it is by trying to block portions of history that I know from my mind. I try to place myself in the time and place of the matrix within ‘20s Russia, where you’re just coming out of the war and you’ve lost a generation of young men.
You use the revolution as a way to get past this horrible thing in World War I that decimated the population and the morale of the country. And that’s how I approached it, just trying to live in that post-World War I moment.
How does playing a villain inform the way you sing? Or, how is a villain supposed to sing?
Traditionally in musical theater — if you look all the way back to Rodgers and Hammerstein — the hero of the show is more of the tenor and the antagonist is more of the baritone. That’s the basic structure of musical theater. My singing voice is a little darker, which is why I’m prone to playing these roles more, because the darker voices are either older characters or villains. And right now, since I’m a little younger, I tend to play the villain. The nice guys, whose voice parts are right for my voice, I’m not quite old enough to play yet.
My pieces in “Anastasia” are written for a darker voice. Low notes are just more villainous in nature; they just sound more devious to the ear.
It’s a lot easier for the audience when they know that the low voice is the guy we’re rooting against and the high voice is the hero. That’s as simple as musical theater structure gets.
To read City Pulse’s review of “Anastasia,” visit www.lansingcitypulse.com
Through Jan. 20 Wharton Center 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing www.whartoncenter.com (517) 432-2000