DETROIT – Let’s take a quick “Journey to the Past.” It’s March 2020 and Sam McLellan is about to take the stage at the Fisher Theatre in the touring production of Fiddler on the Roof, but the world shuts down as the pandemic rages and the tour’s week-long engagement is cut short. Fiddler was the final show to play at the Fisher until the theater reopened at the end of 2021.
Fast forward two years later, McLellan is back in Detroit on the same stage, but this time in the tour of the hit Broadway musical, Anastasia. Before hitting the road again, McLellan shared some of the insight into playing the scrappy urchin and dealing with “Fan-astasias.”
What can Detroiters expect in this version of Anastasia?
There’s definitely a lot of things from that movie that people are going to see and be very familiar with like some of the music. But there’s an element to it that’s new and fresh. There are some changes to the story and characters that I think really grounds the story in a much more real place than maybe the film did, which I think is super appropriate. People were kids when the movie came out and are older now, so their taste is going to be a little bit more mature. And I think there’s a want from the audience that’s a little bit more real, a little bit grittier. But that being said, it’s still an appropriate show for most ages. We’ve been seeing just incredible love and acceptance of the story from all ages.
How do you think your Dimitry compares to the movie version played by John Cusack?
Generally speaking, the way I play any character is just going to be more representative of me and how I would feel given the circumstances. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s worth comparing because every actor is going to bring their own interpretation, but what I bring is a lot of energy, a lot of fire, spunk and I’m very proud of the product that I’ve come up with.
There have been several Dimitrys before you, did any of them pass down any nuggets of wisdom to you?
Interestingly enough, there are guys who have played the role internationally who have reached out with their tips and tricks. Derek Klena [who originated the role on Broadway] taught me open up the vowels which makes singing “My Petersburg” a lot easier because “My Petersburg” is like climbing Mount Everest. It’s a bear of a song and the way it’s blocked, I’m just springing around on stage. I spoke the most with Jake Levy who was playing Dimitry on the first national tour before we took over and he was giving me all sorts of tips like when you’re doing this quick change, make sure to put your socks on first or your feet are going to get stuck in the pants. Little things like that which are super helpful.
Which of the songs in the show is your favorite to sing?
“Everything To Win.” It’s the perfect moment in Dimitry’s arc where you finally see how much he’s grown. You can see how much he’s learned and how much he’s changed over the course of the show. He starts in a place of “screw this place, life is hard, it sucks” and that everybody is out for themselves. He’s willing to take advantage of anybody and everybody, but here we see everything kind of hit him in the face as he realizes Anya’s happiness is more important than the money he’s trying to get.
Anastasia is one of those shows with a huge social media following, how have you been dealing with all the fans?
The “Fan-astasias?” It’s been amazing. They’re some of the most diehard, committed and supportive fans of any show that I’ve been a part of. Even little things like doing an AMA on my Instagram stories, they’re all there and active. They really want to know what’s going on. It’s really been fantastic to see how much they’re engaged with what we’re doing and how much they love the show.
How do you handle the show’s intense travel schedule?
It’s tough, especially when you’re traveling all day and then you have a show at night and have to travel again in the morning. What I will say is that we get to play some venues in some parts of the country where they don’t get a lot of shows like this. But I am telling you they are the most rewarding shows to perform because those audiences die for the show. They’re screaming, they’re yelling, they’re so excited and that just makes up for everything. Just seeing the joy that we get to put in peoples’ lives - there’s no comparison. It truly is the most rewarding work.
What’s the best part about working with this cast?
Just how open and available everybody is. Working with Kyla Stone (Anya), I really couldn’t tell you another actress I’ve worked with that I’ve enjoyed working with more. She’s ready, she’s present every single moment. With theater, it’s different every night. You’re constantly morphing and building something new, keeping it fresh. So it’s really fantastic working with a group of actors, especially Kyla who I do most of the work with, who are ready to play on stage. The entire cast is that way. I work with Bryan Seastrom and he’s the same way.
Was there anything you’re looking forward to in Detroit?
So the last national tour I was on was Fiddler on the Roof and we were in Detroit when COVID shut everything down. This was in the beginning, way way back. So it’s going to be interesting to come back there. I think Detroit’s got this really cool energy. It feels hip and scrappy, which I think is definitely the vibe of Dimitry.
Anastasia plays at the Fisher Theatre from May 5-8, 2022. Tickets start at $39. Visit BroadwayInDetroit.com for schedule and tickets.