Puffy, lovely costumes and dynamic sets steal the show in 'Anastasia,' a musical at Robinson theater this weekend. photo courtesy of Celebrity Attractions

“Anastasia,” a Broadway musical that swooped through Little Rock this weekend for shows at the Robinson Center Performance Hall, provided a pleasant on-ramp to get back out into the public, and reminded us of why watching things on screens will never compare.

The story of a Romanov princess rumored to have survived a firing squad that claimed the rest of her family, the musical hews only loosely to historical record. So leave your “well actually’s” at the door and give yourself over to a fairy tale about an amnesiac foundling with a diamond sewn into her underwear, who elbows her way out of Lenin’s Russia to try her luck with her long-lost nana, the dowager empress, safely decamped to Paris. A conflicted Soviet officer tries to thwart her escape.

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It’s a puffy, sugary story, heavy on romance and easy to follow, making it a good pick for younger theater-goers getting their first taste of live action on stage. Some of the cast makes a lasting impression, like triple threat Madeline Raube, who plays Countess Lily and whose star is no doubt on the rise.

For the most part, though, it was the set and the costumes that wowed my 10-year-old and me. The opening scenes at the Romanov castle in St. Petersburg, all puffy and pristine white, with shimmering diamonds and fat snowflakes falling in the digital screen set windows behind them, kicked off what would be two hours of dynamic set and wardrobe changes. Those snowflakes changed to a blood-red sky as the siege began. Sure, the hand-painted, wooden backdrops of the past had their charms, but these new technicolor glowing displays change the game completely.

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Costume designer Linda Cho rolled the cast beautifully from the czar’s finery to vodka-soaked bolshevik chic to my favorite part of the musical, 1920s Paris nightclub fashion, with swinging skirts and T-strap shoes. A mini ballet performance of “Swan Lake” tucked into the musical was a nice surprise, with a strong and memorable performance by dancer Lauren Teyke. And the scene was made all the more lovely by another round of flouncing white costumes, like cupcakes come to life.

“What’s the verdict?” I asked my 10-year-old afterwards. “It was really good. But I’ve never been to a play before, so…” This basketball-obsessed, video game-addicted 5th grader also said he’s pretty keen to go to more plays in the future, which I count as a ringing endorsement.

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