Madison native Tari Kelly returns to her hometown stage in July, performing in the Broadway touring production of “Anastasia” at Overture Center for the Arts July 30 to Aug. 4.
Kelly is a veteran of six Broadway plays, multiple national Broadway touring companies, and regional theater. This is the first time, however, that she’s traveled with a national tour to her hometown.
“I haven’t performed in Madison ever in a tour,” she said. “And to be able to bring this gorgeous show to the Madison stage, I’m really just so excited to bring it to the people of Madison.”
Kelly grew up on the East Side of Madison, graduated from East High School, studied dance at Virginia Davis School of Dance and started acting in productions at Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson.
She’s now appeared on Broadway in several productions including “Anything Goes,” “The Boy from Oz” (where she worked with Hugh Jackman), “Something Rotten!,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Show Boat.”
As a touring actress, she has performed in national tours of “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Cabaret,” “Show Boat;” and she’s performed with many regional theater companies including stints in Chicago and Pittsburgh.
In “Anastasia,” her role as Countess Lily provides some elements of comic relief in the play.
“I liken it to a Pixar film where there’s jokes that the parents like, but the kids don’t get it,” she said. “It’s really a family show with a tale about love and connections and home. It’s lovely.”
This production of “Anastasia” is one of the most elaborate and beautiful plays she’s been in, Kelly said. The costume designer, Linda Cho, received a Tony nomination for her work on the musical. Early scenes in the production portray lush ball gowns and later scenes depict fashions from 1920s Paris, an element Kelly said she especially loves.
“Just visually it’s the most stunning show I’ve ever been a part of,” Kelly said. “The costumes are so gorgeous and ornate … The set is a computer generated backdrop. It’s a new technology that people are just stunned by. There are three-dimensional scenery and objects that truly look real.”
Countess Lily’s love interest in the play is Vlad, played by actor Edward Staudenmayer. Staudenmayer said he relishes playing opposite Kelly, and in particular performing the song “The Countess and the Common Man” with her.
“I love doing that song,” he said. “It’s probably the best part of every night.”
The legend of Anastasia has a long history in literature and theater. The tragedy of the Romanov family, and the allure of a possible hidden royal heir, have built a mystique around the character.
The story was portrayed in the 1956 film “Anastasia,” starring actress Ingrid Bergman who earned an Academy Award for her role. The 1997 animated film “Anastasia” introduced new generations to the story.
And the musical “Anastasia” premiered on Broadway in 2017. It contains six songs from the animated film and sixteen new numbers, with music and lyrics composed by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and book by Terrence McNally.
The real Anastasia was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, who were murdered in 1918 in a mass execution of their entire household. Legends of a surviving young girl, possibly Anastasia, surfaced many times in the remaining years. The possibility of a surviving Romanov have inspired literature and film, including a 2018 TV series “The Romanovs.”
The musical, which stretches from the Russian Empire to 1920s Paris, follows Anya as she tries to piece her past together and find a new home with help from friends along the way.
There’s a scene in the musical “Anastasia” where the character Vlad holds a portrait of the real Anastasia. Staudenmayer said it’s a way to bring the real person away from the mythology, and that it creates a poignant reminder for him and the cast that she was more than a legend.
“The Romanovs were in power so long and they were royalty, and their demise is so poignant when you think about what happened to them. It’s hard to imagine,” he said. “In our show, we don’t show their deaths, but you see an element of the scope of the tragedy. I think the mystery of it lives on because of the power of their stories.”