From the moment you begin talking to Christy Altomare, star of the new Broadway play “Anastasia,” you not only hear it, but you feel her passion for performing and her overwhelming sense of gratitude for a craft that allows her to do what she loves, night after night.
“It’s like magic,” she says. “It’s this unspoken conversation between you and the audience, and the energy is electric—it’s unlike anything else you’ll ever experience.”
Where It All Began
The actress, who hails from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was immersed in song and dance from the start. “I used to run around my house singing, and when my parents realized I had an interest in performing, they’d take me to see Broadway shows,” she says.
Altomare credits her mother with providing that first push into performing for an audience. “She put together a musical review right in our backyard and rounded up all the kids from the neighborhood. I was lucky that my family gave me every opportunity possible to enhance my training.”
That support allowed Altomare to follow her dreams while she was still young. At age 11, she began writing songs and playing guitar; by 13 she released her first independent CD. Throughout middle school and high school, she performed in school and community theater productions.
“I always knew I wanted to be a performer, either as an actor or a singer/songwriter,” says Altomare. “But for a while I had this struggle between the two, and when it came time for college I had to choose.”
At the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), she dabbled in musical theater writing, wrote songs for a play that became a main stage production, and continued writing her own music. In essence, she was able to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Right after graduation, Altomare joined the first national tour of “Spring Awakening” in the lead role of Wendla. The opportunity came after she was recognized at a showcase hosted by CCM. “I sang one of the songs from the show and the casting director was in the audience,” she says. Six auditions later, the part was hers. “To book a role right out of college is rare. I’m grateful I had that opportunity.”
The chance to travel the country in “Spring Awakening” was an experience Altomare equates to attending graduate school—she was in a safe environment surrounded by other young actors, all while performing and learning new skills along the way. “It’s something I will cherish forever,” she says.
The Bright Lights of the Big City
Altomare stayed with the tour until its final performance in 2010 before moving on to a few projects that would ultimately prepare her for a Broadway debut. She appeared in a two-person show entitled “Daddy Long Legs,” as well as the Off-Broadway revival of “Carrie.” In June 2012, she landed what she says was one of her “absolute dream roles”—her first on the Broadway stage—playing Sophie Sheridan in “Mamma Mia!”
“When I was doing ‘Spring Awakening,’ I would walk around from city to city singing a song from the show and my cast members would say, ‘Stop, we know you want to be in ‘Mamma Mia!’” she recalls. “I told them one day I would be Sophie.”
By the time Altomare landed that dream role, she was finishing her third professional gig. At that point, Broadway was less intimidating than she had imagined.
“I always thought that if I ever got to Broadway I would be scared—either freak out on stage or forget all my lines,” she says. “But I’ve never had more joy than when I stepped onto the Broadway stage opening night. My heart was singing. It was the complete opposite of what I had thought it would be.”
Fulfilling a Childhood Fantasy
If appearing on her first Broadway stage was a dream come true, winning the lead role in the musical adaption of the 1997 animated film “Anastasia” surpassed anything she could have ever imagined. “Booking this show has been the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment of my life,” says Altomare. “If you’re an actor in musical theater, it’s a dream to originate a role on Broadway. It’s the greatest honor of my life.”
To make the gig even sweeter, the film is one she’s loved since she was a kid. Altomare says that as a young girl, she would run around her basement singing the songs from the movie. Now she’s doing it in front of an audience.
She first stepped into the role last summer when the production ran for about a month at the Hartford Stage in Connecticut. “When I first got the part, I was over the moon. I thought to myself, ‘I can do this show and die now—my life is perfect,’” says Altomare. “Then, when they asked me to take it to Broadway, it was an amazing honor.”
A creative spirit, Altomare is enjoying the chance to portray a girl she describes as “optimistic against all odds.” Audiences first meet Anastasia (“Anya”) in the slums of St. Petersburg, Russia, right after the Bolshevik Revolution. A spunky, young street sweeper with a passion for the future despite all the negativity around her, Anya dreams of going to Paris—and is determined to get there no matter what. “I think of her as a light,” says Altomare. “She’s strong-willed, she sticks up for herself, and she’s not a pushover.”
Altomare’s love for the animated film is twofold: not only is it a magical story, but it’s also full of heartfelt music created by the Tony Award-winning team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. A longtime fan of the pair, Altomare finds it surreal to work with them. “As a songwriter myself, I feel an extra amount of love and respect for the artistry that goes into their songs,” says Altomare. “They are truly gifted in every way.”
While the musical is not a direct adaptation of the animated classic, it certainly honors it. Included are five songs from the film, along with 19 songs written specifically for the musical. “The show is a little bit of everything,” says the actress. “It also honors the 1956 film with Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner, and Helen Hayes, as well as the real Anastasia Romanov.”
Grateful for many of the things this production has already given her, Altomare says getting to work with the crème de la crème of musical theater is an honor she doesn’t take lightly. “I am lucky to create a role with the most esteemed people in the business, and I will try my hardest to reach the greatest potential I can.”
The production also reunites Altomare with Derek Klena, her co-star in “Carrie.” It’s something the actress says is another layer that makes the experience so surreal. “I get to play with such a talented and wonderful person,” she says. “It has been a joy to work with an old friend and consummate professional.”
When talking about the roles she’s been fortunate to play, Altomare says it’s not easy to single out a favorite because she’s felt a strong connection to each one. “In a way, every actor has to fall in love with the part they’re playing,” she says. “Otherwise, how can you give it the attention it deserves?”
Musical: Joni Mitchell, Kasey Musgraves, Jason Robert Brown, Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty
Acting: Christine Ebersole, Patti Lupone, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Sutton Foster, Annaleigh Ashford, Audra McDonald
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“Anastasia: The New Broadway Musical”
235 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
Previews began March 23rd | Opening night is April 24th
Photos by: Philip Fischetti