Christy Altomare on Being the Lifelong "Fanastasia" Who Gets to Play Anastasia
Altomare stars in the Hartford Stage production of the new musical from Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Terrence McNally.
Christy Altomare has loved the animated film Anastasia her entire life. She had the dolls and she even sang the classic Ahrens and Flaherty tune "Journey to the Past" at auditions. But when she actually got called to try out for the new stage version of the property, it almost didn't work out.
At one point she remembers being told that she was too young. A year went by and things changed. As she describes, she was "more mature" as a performer. And sure enough, she landed the role of Anya, the eighteen-year-old orphan with amnesia who struggles to trace her family roots.
Altomare is living her dream in this Hartford Stage production, which reunites her with her stage boyfriend from the 2012 off-Broadway production of Carrie the Musical, Derek Klena. Everything about the experience is changing her life.
Do you have a big affinity for Anastasia growing up?
Oh, yeah. We're coining people that are fans of the show, "Fanastasias." When people are like "I'm a Fanastasia," I'm like, "I'm a Fanastasia." I am a humongous fan. I had the Anya and Dimitri dolls as a kid. We loved our Dimitri doll so much it's missing from the house. We can't find him.
I sang "Journey to the Past" all throughout my house growing up, and had it in my [audition] book for a really long time when I was very young. I got a manager when I was sixteen, and I remember going into auditions as a sixteen-year-old for shows where I clearly shouldn't be singing "Journey to the Past." I would take off my shoes and sing it in socks. At a professional audition.
Tell me about the audition for this production.
They gave me, I think, four songs, and then they called me back to sing a duet with Derek [Klena] called "In a Crowd of Thousands." Craig Burns, the casting director, came out and was like, "You're gonna audition with your old boyfriend." And [director] Darko [Tresnjak] was like, "Your old boyfriend?" "No! Derek was my show boyfriend." We went in and sang the song together, and it was so much fun getting to reunite with him for that one audition. The next morning when I found out, I just freaked out. I couldn't believe it. I was doing a reading at the time, with Rebecca Luker and all of these amazing Broadway people, and my manager was like, "Keep your mouth shut." How can you keep your mouth shut?
It must be nice to work with Derek on a show where the tone is completely different from Carrie.
Completely different. What makes it so amazing is that we had such a great time working together the first go round. We didn't even get to do that much. It was a lot of one-liners here and there. For this show, we really get to chat with each other onstage and play with each other as actors. I always had such respect for him, but even more so now when we really are relying on each other to make the show something special. In the last four years, we both have grown so much as actors. To see how open and honest he is and willing to look in my eyes and hang on every word I say, it's really beautiful.
How surreal was it for you to be singing this score with Ahrens and Flaherty actually in the room?
It was pretty surreal. They're so humble and so nice. You almost forget how genius they are because they're so warm and so kind. It's like talking to any person, but then you stop and you think, "Wait, this is the person who wrote Ragtime and Seussical and Once on This Island.
Lynn makes me cry on many occasions. She doesn't know this. When I was writing her opening-night card, I started welling up. I'm also a songwriter. I've written songs since I was eleven years old. I've dabbled in trying to write musical songs, and when you go through that process of lyric writing, you understand how hard it is, and what a craft it is. I remember hours sitting at the kitchen table with my parents trying to make a lyric really exude emotion, and she does that with all of her lyrics. With Stephen, it's a whole other conversation, but in melody. When I sing, I don't even have to act. I just feel and it comes out.
Tell me about the new songs they've added to the score.
The new songs stand up to "Journey in the Past." My mom recently sent me a video that somebody posted on YouTube. [The person] was like, "This song, I haven't been able to get it out of my head all day," and he went to the piano and he played, [note for note], the melody of the first song that I sing. He only heard it once. I couldn't believe how much he retained. It's a testament to Stephen's amazing ability to create these melodies that just stick with you.
What is the "pinch me" moment for you with this experience?
Every single element. Just finally having the opportunity to do something like this, something I love so dearly, going into the audition, getting the opportunity to perform for those people even for two minutes, was enough. The fact that they trusted me to drive this bus, I'm so indebted to them. Every day of my life I wake up going, "I can't believe I get to do this."