Children’s Playhouse of Maryland presents 'Anastasia: The Musical'

Jason Wilkinson

The lecture hall at CCBC Essex was filled as people bustled in on a cool fall day to see “Anastasia: The Musical” performed by the Children’s Playhouse of Maryland.

There were so many people that the show was delayed by about 15 minutes in order to get everyone inside and in their seats. The crowd was a good mix of everyone from toddlers to grandparents. Once everyone was settled in, the lights dimmed, and the actors took the stage.

“Anastasia: The Musical” is written by Terrence McNally with music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, respectively. It is based on the 1997 animated film of the same name and details the story of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov of Russia who was rumored to have escaped her family’s execution in 1917. Ten years later, two conmen, Dmitry and Vlad, form a scheme to trick a young woman into believing she is Anastasia in order to get money from Anastasia’s grandmother, the Dowager Empress.

After being unable to find a satisfactory candidate, they meet Anya, a young woman with amnesia who is seeking passage to Paris. With their fake Anastasia in tow, they travel to Paris to meet with the Dowager Empress, unaware that Anya just might be the real Anastasia after all.

Children’s Playhouse of Maryland features casts of children aged 4 to 18. The three leads were played by high school students Reese Bruning (Anastasia), Shahmeer Mirza (Dmitry), and Max Ozbolt (Vlad), three young people with talent well beyond their years.

“I loved being in it! Always love CPM productions, but Anastasia in particular has been very special,” said Shahmeer Mirza. “I saw the touring production a few years back and instantly fell in love with the show. The costumes, dances, and score all work together to make this musical so special. Dmitry has been a dream role for me for years and I am so grateful that I finally got to play him.”

The show featured interesting set designs—including a scene involving a train car that keeps rotating as the characters sing out of different windows—as well as elaborate choreography. There was ballroom dancing, swing dancing, and huge sequences involving at least fifteen dancers. One of the highlights of the show is a sequence featuring Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

All of this takes a lot of work from people behind the scenes. “Anastasia is a beast of a show and we couldn't have done it without the amazing creative team,” said Reese Bruning. “Some of my favorite moments include the first time I heard our cast sing together, it was truly magical the sound that we had together. Another of my favorite moments was our choreography rehearsal for 'Learn to Do It.' I felt like that was the moment that Max, Shameer, and I really found the magic within our trio."

“This has truly been an inspirational journey with Anastasia. The actors and crew are really remarkable taking on this challenging music and dance,” said director Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, who has worked CPM since its inception in 2001. “They are so dedicated to really telling the story with passion and commitment. There are some very intense scenes that are fully realized with their talents. These exceptional young performers inspire me every day. It has been so exciting to bring this show to life with our amazing team—Diane Smith (Technical Director, Projections), Charlotte Evans Crowley (Music Director), Rachel Miller (Choreographer and also a CPM alumni), Robyn Alvarez (Costumer), Anne Marie Freeburger (Stage Manager) and our fabulous parent volunteers.”

Other standouts from the show include Bella Comotto who gave an electrifying performance as the Countess Lily—the spunky lady-in-waiting for the Dowager Empress—Ethan Howard as the reluctant Bolshevik general Gleb who is tasked with tracking down Anya and bringing her back to Russia, and Miranda Cockey as the Dowager Empress who has grown bitter in her later years, having dealt with countless Anastasia imposters.

“CPM has been very good to me, giving me many opportunities to perform that I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” said Max Ozbolt.

Anastasia had seven shows between September 23rd and October 8th. CPM puts on four shows per season. Upcoming shows include “Neverland” in December, “Disney’s Finding Nemo” in March, and “Mean Girls: The Musical” in May.

If you are interested in getting involved with CPM, you can join their mailing list at to receive audition notices and volunteering opportunities, or you can visit their website at

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