A musical based on the 20th Century Fox animated feature, Anastasia, is headed to Broadway. The show, which will be scored by the same composers behind the 1997 film, follows the story of Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova—youngest daughter of Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia, and the grand duchess Alexandra Feodorovna—as she discovers her true identity and journeys from Soviet-era Leningrad to meet her emigrée grandmother, the tsarina Maria Feodorovna, in Paris.
Born in the last days imperial Russia, Anastasia was in fact executed, along with her family, by members of the Bolshevik secret police in July 1918. Her body was dumped in a mass grave near the city of Yekaterinburg, in the foothills of the Ural Mountains. Though forensic analysis and DNA testing conclusively identified her remains in 2007, rumors have persisted—as they had throughout the 20th century—that she had survived the Red Terror, fueled by the fact that the location of the Romanov graves was unknown during the Soviet years, and by several high-profile accounts of impostors claiming to be the princess.
The most famous of these Romanov imposters was Anna Anderson, a runaway Polish factory worker who spent time in several German sanatoriums in the 1920s. Members of the Romanov court living abroad during Soviet years repeatedly denied Anderson’s claim to the family name, but international media attention to Anderson’s story easily eclipsed reality.
Anderson emigrated to the United States in the 1960s, married a professor of history at the University of Virginia, and enjoyed a healthy base of believers until her death in 1984. It was then that her mitochondrial DNA was compared to that of prince Philip, duke of Edinburgh, whose maternal great-aunt was the grand duchess Alexandra Feodorovna (making the real Anastasia Romanova his second cousin). The pair was not a match.
Yet, even today, there are those who remain convinced by Anderson’s story. In 2014, Veniamin Alekseyev, a Russian official who served on the government commission that confirmed the identity of Anastasia’s remains at Yekaterinburg, published a book in which he argued that neither the commission’s findings nor the genetic testing done on Anderson were conclusive.
Arguably, the seeming immortality of Anderson’s tale can be tied to its fiercely anti-communist message: an elegant story of survival in the face of ruthless Soviet destruction.
It is probably the fairytale romance at work that most endures, though—the notion that a downtrodden girl of ostensibly humble origins might in fact be the long-lost scion of a jewel-encrusted imperial regime. This was the crux of the 1997 film, and it presumably will be just as effective on Broadway theater-goers. But the story of a working-class Polish girl who hoodwinked much of the industrialized world might be just as tantalizing.