First things first: Anastasia is a Disney princess.
The animated film may have been released by 20th Century Fox but the Disney studios bought Fox, bringing her into the fold.
For the touring production of “Disney Princess: The Concert,” she’s considered one of the faithful – which makes Christy Altomare, one of the show’s stars, more than pleased.
“I grew up with Ariel…she was my No. 1,” Altomare says. “It was like she was the only princess for a while. And then it was Jasmine and then it was Belle.” And then, thanks to a hit animated musical, Anastasia became the focus of girls across the country.
When “Anastasia” was adapted for Broadway, the University of Cincinnati graduate was at the right place in her career to join the princess ranks.
Already on Broadway when a reading was announced, she thought she might have an in because a co-star in “Mamma Mia!” was part of the production. An audition, however, didn’t prove fruitful. She couldn’t hit the high note in “In My Dreams.”
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“A year later, I got asked to audition again.” The second time, she was told she looked too young.
Luckily, there was a third chance. Altomare had the high note down and wore heels to look a bit older. “The next day, I got the call that I had gotten the part.”
A lot of memories
On Broadway for more than 800 performances, the musical brought Altomare a Theatre World award, a Drama Desk nomination and a legion of fans.
To share her appreciation, Altomare greeted audiences at the stage door after every performance and encouraged others to take a cue from the show and pursue their dreams.
The character, she says, is a great role model. “She represents courage, strength, kindness, moving forward and being an all-around good person when she does it.”
To pass along the goodness, Altomare frequently gave visitors backstage tours. When she saw a child who was particularly thrilled to be part of the magic, she’d say, “Close your eyes,” and she'd pull out a crown and dub the child an honorary Anastasia. “It was really fun to get to do that for kids.”
In return, they gifted her with artwork, stuffed animals, candy and hugs.
The “experience of a lifetime” continues to bring rewards.
Another shot at Ariel
In “Disney Princess: The Concert,” Altomare gets to sing songs from that show and indulge her inner wish to be Ariel. Yup, she sings “The Little Mermaid’s” songs.
With other actresses (who have played the Disney roles on Broadway, in films and at the theme parks), she’s part of a “greatest hits” show that lets them sing classic Disney songs – not as the characters, but as veterans of the world. Broadway actor Adam J. Levy sings the male roles and joins the others for group numbers.
The “Princess” show is a “best of all possible worlds” for a Disney fan like Altomare.
“It was always my dream to play Ariel…I connect with her so much …but even if I don’t play her I get to be her onstage in this version, which is really cool.”
The touring production is also ideal for someone who has two shows which could go to Broadway. In the past year, she appeared in a musical about Dion called “The Wanderer.” It was presented at the Paper Mill Playhouse and played to sold-out houses. The only thing keeping it from moving to Broadway, she says, is theater availability. The second, “Noir,” is based on film noir and features a score by Duncan Sheik. That played Houston and is slated for a workshop in January that Altomare will be a part of. “We’re all hopeful for the future.”
That philosophy served the actress well during COVID.
Sharing the dream
“I was one of the lucky ones because I had just finished ‘Anastasia,’” she says. “So people knew who I was. I went straight into the teaching sector when all of the gigs I had lined up imploded.”
Teaching, Altomare says, was a way to make money and “provide a service for so many kids who didn’t get to go to prom, who didn’t get to be social, in general. They needed that boost to remind themselves they were on the right path.”
When theater began to reopen, she went back to work and saw how the time off enabled others to write and create shows about their life experiences. “I knew it was going to come back…it was just a matter of time.”
Still, when she returned to the stage (in a show in Boca Raton, Florida), “I cannot tell you how much I was shaking. I had done a lot of virtual things, but to physically be on stage again? It was different.” Since then, Altomare has been with Tony-winning actors who were returning for the first time and they, too, had the same reaction. “They just needed one show to go, ‘OK, I got this.’”
Now, she’s enjoying the “Princess” world and looking forward to creating another role on Broadway.
When she was in “Mamma Mia!,” insiders were blasé about the casting. “It’s like, ‘You’re the 14th Sophie. That’s cool.’ But when you originate a role, it’s a totally different vibe. You definitely feel like you want to do your best. I always said to myself, if I was every put in that position, I would want to have no regrets. So I woke up every morning going, ‘I’m going to do as best as I humanly can with this part.' Some people might say it was obsessively crazy how hard I worked on it. But I think that’s what you have to do. Not everyone is given their moment in the sun.”