“Anastasia” production brings Madison native home

Tari Kelly in Anastasia
Tari Kelly as Countess Lily and Edward Staudenmayer as Vlad perform in "Anastasia."

By Katy Macek | Photo Courtesy Matthew Murphy

The last time 1988 Madison East High School graduate Tari Kelly performed a show in her hometown, she reckons she was either in community theater or a school musical.

Kelly, 49, has since made a career out of her childhood passion, having acted professionally for the last 29 years, including six Broadway shows and four national tours. Despite a well-polished acting career, it is her current role as Countess Lily in “Anastasia” that is finally bringing the actress home.

“When I saw Madison was on the tour schedule when I got the job, I actually burst into tears,” Kelly says. “I was so happy, I was beside myself.”

“Anastasia” runs Tuesday, July 30, through Sunday, Aug. 4, at Overture Center for the Arts. The musical follows Anya, a young woman bent on discovering her past, and takes place in the Russian Empire and 1920s Paris. It features a book by playwright Terrence McNally and a new score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. Tony Award winner Darko Tresnjak directs the show.

Kelly says her character provides comic relief, much as Sophie did in the 1997 film version.

“She is so much fun to play,” Kelly says. “The show is somewhat serious, but when I come on in the second act, that’s when things get wacky.”

Case in point: A fun number about rekindling a romance called “Countess and the Common Man,” which Kelly says is among her favorite pieces to perform.

Overall, she loves the old-school musical feel of “Anastasia” combined with modern technology she feels allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in the show.

“It’s a beautiful show physically,” she says. “The set is done through these computer-animated backdrops that really transport you to all of these different places.”

She estimates the cast has performed the show more than 260 times. Still, she expects returning to Madison will reignite her nerves because, “There’s this expectation of being the hometown girl.”

On the flip side, she gets to show off her hometown to her cast, a moment she’s been waiting for since the tour kicked off.

“I’m so excited for my cast to see where I grew up because I love Madison so much,” she says. “I’m really jazzed for them to experience it.”

Among the stops she’ll surely suggest? Anywhere on Williamson Street, which is near where she grew up on the east side, in a home her mother still lives in. She’s also looking forward to walking down State Street and seeing “what’s changed and what’s the same.”

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