Based on the 1997 film of the same name, the musical tells the story of the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, which claims that she in fact escaped the execution of her family.
Saint Petersburg: 1907-1917
In 1907 St. Petersburg, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorvna is about to set off to move to Paris. Her youngest granddaughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanov is saddened about her “nana” moving and begs her to take her to Paris with her. The Dowager Empress comforts her by promising her that she’ll live at Paris with her when she’s older, going to the ballet every night and walking on Pont Alexandre III, a bridge named after Anastasia’s deceased grandfather. Before she leaves, the Dowager Empress gives Anastasia a special music box that contains their lullaby (“Once Upon a December-Prologue”). Anastasia chases her nana as she is leaving, but her father, Nicholas, the Tsar of Russia distracts her by dancing and pretending to hold a ball. Ten years later, Anastasia is now a beautiful teenager, who is being courted by suitors with her three older sisters, Olga, Maria, and Tatiana at a ball. After taking photographs, the family is attacked by the Bolsheviks. The Romanovs attempt to escape them, but Anastasia leaves her family behind to get the music box to only be caught by a bomb thrown by the Bolsheviks. The Romanov family is confirmed to be dead and the Dowager Empress mourns her loss (“Dance of the Romanovs”).
Leningrad (Saint Petersburg): 1927
Gleb Vaganov, a general for the Bolsheviks (who now control Russia), announces to the gloomy Russians that the now poor Saint Petersburg is now renamed Leningrad and he promises a bright and peaceful future. The Russians protest this change, but are uplifted about a rumor that Anastasia could have survived the Bolshevik attacks. Two wanted conmen, a handsome young man named Dmitry and a ex-member of the Royal Court named Vlad Popov, hear about the rumors and brainstorm “the biggest con in history” where they will train a naive girl to be Anastasia, in order to get money from the Dowager Empress (“A Rumor in St. Petersburg"). Behind Gleb’s back, Dmitry and Vlad hold unsuccessful auditions for the scheme at the theater in the abandoned Yusupov Palace. As they are about to give up, a young street sweeper named Anya walks in to ask Dmitri about paperwork to get tickets for Paris. Vlad and Dmitry dismiss her, but Anya vaguely remembers that she was at the theater long ago and starts remembering a play. Dmitry and Vlad are fascinated and Anya explains to them that she doesn’t remember who she is and has very little memories of her past (“In My Dreams”). Amazed by her lack of memories and her resemblance to Anastasia, they pick her as the fake Anastasia.
At the capitol, government workers sort through rumors and reports to find any that require further action (“The Rumors Never End”). Three bitter actresses report Anya, Dmitry, and Vlad to Gleb and he dismisses them. One of the actresses claims that the scheme is true to a doubtful employee. Gleb warns them to never claim the truth, for only he knows whether if Anastasia is dead or not. As a boy, he lived across from Ipatiev House, where the Romanovs were killed and he heard the execution from his house. His father, who participated in the execution, died from shame afterwards. Despite of the guilt, Gleb insists that he did something honorable and he must live out his legacy (“A Simple Thing”).
Back at the palace, Vlad and Dmitry train a feisty Anya to be Anastasia through history, dining, and dancing lessons. Months fly by and Anya is now poised to see the Dowager Empress (“Learn to Do It”). At the streets, Anya gets arrested and is turned in to Gleb. While flirting with Anya, he discovers that Anya has “the Romanov eyes” and she could be Anastasia after all. He lets her go and warns her that her eyes could give her away (“Anya”).
When she reunites with Dmitry, they get attacked by Dmitry’s old con partners and the two fight them off (“The Neva Flows”). Dmitry is impressed by her fighting skills and she naively questions his toughness. Dmitry shows Anya his favorite spot in St. Petersburg and tells her how he survived the streets as a kid (“My Petersburg”). He also explains to her that his father revolted against the Bolsheviks and was killed in one of their camps. He starts to trust her enough to show her a broken music box, not knowing that this was Anastasia’s music box given to her by the Dowager Empress. Anya unwinds the box and starts to vaguely remember her past, including a royal ball her family had many years ago (“Once Upon a December”). In return, Anya gives Dmitry her most prized possession, a diamond that was found sewn to her dress when she was discovered as a girl (“In My Dreams-Reprise”). They reunite with Vlad and Anya gives them the diamond to get tickets to Paris.
At the train station, a royal count named Count Ipolitov recognizes Anya as Anastasia and kisses her hand. As everyone gets on the train to Paris, Count Ipolitov leads everyone in a prayer of farewell to Russia (“Stay, I Pray You”). On the way to the ride, Anya, Dmitry, and Vlad reflect on what they hope to accomplish in Paris: Anya hoping to find out that she’s Anastasia, Dmitry’s desire for the money, and Vlad trying to win back Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch (who was named Sophie in the 1997 animated feature), the Dowager Empress’s lady-in-waiting who he had an affair with (“We’ll Go From There”). But, Count Ipolitov is fatally shot by the police for illegally boarding the train. Anya has an emotional breakdown, being triggered by the guns. The police then goes after everyone in the train, prompting Anya, Vlad, and Dmitry to jump off the train. As they travel across Russia by foot, the head general of the Bolsheviks, Gorlinsky orders Gleb to follow Anya and kill her (“Traveling Sequence”). Anya, Vlad, and Dmitry finally arrive in France. As they travel to Paris, Anya summons the courage to continue on and hopes that she’ll finally find out who she is (“Journey to the Past”).
Anya, Vlad, and Dmitry enter Paris and they are swept up by the sounds, sights, and the celebrities of Paris, including Josephine Baker, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Coco Chanel (“Paris Holds the Key (to Your Heart)”). After Vlad and Dmitry leave Anya to do their own things, Anya goes to the Pont Alexandre III and has a strong connection with it (“Crossing a Bridge”).
Now a bitter elderly woman, the Dowager Empress reads the letters of various Anastasia impersonators and heartbreakingly gives up the hope of finding Anastasia (“Closing the Door”). As Gleb arrives in Paris, Lily parties at the Neva Club where rich and noble Russians go to reminisce the old Russia (“Land of Yesterday”). She reunites with Vlad, who she’s angry at for stealing her jewelry. The two rekindle their scandalous romance and Vlad convinces her to let Anya meet the Dowager Empress at the ballet the next night (“The Countess and the Common Man”).
At the hotel, Anya has a nightmare about her family and the execution (“A Nightmare”). Dmitry comforts her and tells the story how he bowed to Anastasia at a parade as a young boy. Anya vividly remembers this, and the two realize that Anya is indeed the Grand Duchess Anastasia (“In a Crowd of Thousands”).
At the ballet, Vlad catches on that Anya and Dmitry are in love with each other and is heartbroken that they can never be together (“I Never Should Have Let Them Dance”). During the performance of Swan Lake, Anya sees the Dowager Empress and remembers her. The Dowager Empress also sees Anya and recognizes her, but clings to denial. Dmitry and Gleb, who is about to shoot Anya, reflect on their romantic feelings for Anya. As Gleb is about to pull the trigger, the applause from the audience stops him and runs off (“Quartet at the Ballet”). After the ballet, Lily also recognizes Anya as Anastasia and immediately takes her to the Dowager Empress. Dmitry is anxious about the meeting and realizes that he is in love with Anya, but knows he needs to let her go to her family (“Everything to Win”). Anya leaves the meeting enraged, learning from the Dowager Empress that Anya has been used by Vlad and Dmitry. She storms off and Dmitry waits for the Dowager Empress. She coldly tells him off, but Dmitry disrespectfully stops her. He begs her to see Anya and when she refuses again, he damns her and Russia. Impressed by Dmitry’s courage to stand up against her, she agrees to see Anya. At the hotel room, Anya stops packing to talk to the Empress. Anya is shocked over the Dowager Empress’s cruelty, saying that she isn’t the nana that she remembered. The Dowager Empress angrily questions Anya about her past and the Romanov Family, but Anya prompts the Dowager Empress to reflect on who she has become the last twenty years. Anya suddenly remembers the night that the Dowager Empress left her for Paris. When Anya pulls out the music box and sings the lullaby, the Dowager Empress finally realizes that Anya is Anastasia and the two embrace, now reunited after twenty years (“Once Upon a December-Reprise”).
A press conference is held the next morning, and Vlad and Lily try to hold off the hungry reporters (“The Press Conference”). Before stepping out in public, Anya starts to have second thoughts of being a princess. The Dowager Empress notices this and insists that no matter what she chooses, they’ll be together. Anya runs off to think, and realizes that she’s in love with Dmitry and chooses to run after him (“Everything to Win-Reprise”). When she turns to leave, she sees that Gleb has sneaked in and locked them in the room. She now understands why he’s here and Gleb says that he has to kill Anya to complete his father’s mission. Anya starts to clearly remember the day that her family was killed and without fear, taunts him to kill her, so she can be with her family. Gleb emotionally chooses not to kill Anya, not wanting to have the shame that his father had (“A Simple Thing-Reprise”). He decides to lie to the Bolsheviks that Anastasia is just a fake rumor, and Anya and Gleb call a truce. The palace staff, Lily, and Vlad run off to search for Anya and start to question if Anya was really Anastasia. The Dowager Empress is happy, knowing that Anya is now where she belongs and announces that the rumors of Anastasia will now cease. Anya finds Dmitry at Pont Alexandre III. Anya and Dmitry claim their love for each other and leave Paris together as the spirits of the Romanovs celebrate the life that Anya and Dmitry will have together (“In A Crowd of Thousands-Reprise/Finale”).