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Arts | Culture

Catching up with director and former Old Globe artistic ace Darko Tresnjak as ‘Anastasia’ heads to town

3 - Lila Coogan (Anya) and the company of the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade..jpg
Lila Coogan as Anya, with the company of the touring musical “Anastasia.”
(Evan Zimmerman)

It’s been 10 years this month since Darko Tresnjak stepped down as resident artistic director of the Old Globe and head of its Shakespeare Festival. So what exactly has the man been doing all this time?

Well, a few little things: Shepherding two musicals — including the Globe-connected “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” — to Broadway; winning a 2014 Tony Award for directing the latter show; leading Connecticut’s Hartford Stage for eight years as its artistic chief, until this past June; making his Metropolitan Opera directorial debut last year.

And, oh yeah, traveling the globe to put up new productions of that other Broadway show of his: “Anastasia,” the movie-based musical whose U.S. tour makes its first visit to San Diego next week.

“As decades go, it’s been a good one!” Tresnjak says with a laugh, chatting by phone from his Connecticut home. “I’d give it a good rating.”

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As Tresnjak spoke, he was about to leave for Holland to oversee the opening of “Anastasia” there. But he planned to be back in San Diego for the latter part of the musical’s run here, in time to rehearse a new actor, Jake Levy, into the key role of Dmitry.

While “Anastasia” — which had a nearly two-year Broadway run starting in 2017 — was developed in Hartford rather than San Diego, Tresnjak’s experiences here informed how he ultimately staged this musical about a mystery woman who might be a missing Russian duchess.

Darko Tresnjak accepts the award for best direction of a musical for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” onstage at the 68th annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 8, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Darko Tresnjak accepts the 2014 Tony Award for directing the Old Globe-connected musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”
(Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

“It actually has some relationship to my work in San Diego — the very first shows I directed there, (Shakespeare’s) ‘Pericles’ and ‘A Winter’s Tale,’” Tresnjak says.

“The whole Anastasia myth, it functions like a theatrical romance to me. At the center of it is a young woman, like Marina in ‘Pericles’ or Perdita in ‘A Winter’s Tale,’ who’s separated from her family. And at the end of the perilous journeys, there’s this improbable reunion, like in Shakespeare’s plays.”

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Science, of course, has proved that the real-life Anastasia died with the rest of the Romanov family at the hands of the Bolsheviks in 1918. But Tresnjak believes the DNA evidence is “irrelevant to the theatrical imagination that needs to believe in the power of theater, and the power of fairy tales.”

The Serbian-born Tresnjak, who had read up on the Romanov family as a young kid, joined “Anastasia” after composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens and writer Terrence McNally (the potent trio behind “Ragtime”) came to see “Gentleman’s Guide.”

“Afterwards they wanted to meet with me,” he recalls. “And it seemed a really good fit. They are great minds to work with.

“What moves me tremendously is that Terrence McNally, who was deep into his 70s when he started writing this — it wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice, but he wrote this beautiful piece for a young woman.

“People think it’s about these two con men training this woman to be a Romanov. But what I think Terrence wrote beautifully is that they’re all made better men through having met her.”

9 - Lila Coogan (Anya) and Stephen Brower (Dmitry) in the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade..jpg
Lila Coogan (as Anya) and Stephen Brower (Dmitry) in the national touring production of “Anastasia.”
(Mike Nitzel)

Besides the U.S. and the Netherlands, “Anastasia” now also has productions in Spain and Germany; up next is Tokyo, with more to come. And for Tresnjak, all that traveling to keep up with the show has proved eye-opening.

“What I discovered about Europe and musicals is that it’s very international,” he says, noting that the Madrid and Stuttgart productions include cast members from some 15 countries.

“It really gives you hope for the world, having this international family of actors. It’s a beautiful thing.”

‘Anastasia’

When: Opens Oct. 1. 7 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday. 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Through Oct. 9.

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Where: Broadway/San Diego at the Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown.

Tickets: About $30-$75 for non-resale tickets (subject to change and availability)

Phone: (619/858/760) 570-1100

Online: broadwaysd.com


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