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Taking a Journey with Anastasia’s Dowager Empress Joy Franz…and What an Amazing Journey it Was!

The story of Anastasia is taking a journey to Wharton Center next week and we could not be more excited! With Tony Award Winning Darko Tresnjak directing, the music and lyrics of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens keeping us dancing and enchanted, and a story inspired by celebrated playwright Terrence Mcnally, we can look forward to a show filled with adventure, mystery, and excitement! With its brilliant costumes, splendid backgrounds and staging, incredible orchestrations, and our favorite familiar songs (“Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past“), Anastasia gives us some insight about following your dreams and discovering who you are meant to be.

From the twilight of Russia to the rapture of Paris, Anastasia is a journey of romance, adventure, bravery, discovery and identity.  “A brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of a dashing conman and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love, and family.” (from Anastasia the Musical Official Site)

3 - Lila Coogan (Anya) and the company of the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade.

Lila Coogan (Anya) and the Company of the National Tour of Anastasia, photo by Evan Zimmerman

While the show teaches us about following dreams and discovering who we are, I found that no one exemplifies this better than Anastasia’s own Dowager Empress Joy Franz. She is a lady that fits more inspiration into one short conversation than some may feel in their entire life. Joy leaves you with the feeling that any dream you have in life is reachable. I had the absolute honor of interviewing her and discovered not only why Anastasia is the must see musical of the season, but what the message of the show truly means.

Joy Franz Headshot

Joy Franz (Dowager Empress in Anastasia)

Our interview started with a cheery Good Morning and ended with me quite in tears from the overwhelming bliss and inspiration that is no doubt very much part of who Joy is. She is a woman with such an incredibly beautiful soul that it is not difficult to immediately feel enchanted by her. After some introduction and chat about myself and my family (because Joy doesn’t just come to interview, she comes to truly connect with you) I learned a lot about why the Dowager Empress is such a perfect role for Joy and why this show is so magical. I came with interview questions, but Joy gave me so so much more. I hope you can find as much awe and inspiration in her words as I did.

Heather: Joy, I think I saw somewhere that you have been performing for over 50 years, is that correct?

Joy: Oh, Geez, yes (haha)! 

Heather: I’m curious, after all of theses years of performing, what actually drew you to the role of the Dowager Empress?

Joy: First of all its just an absolutely beautiful role. I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH and I am so happy and grateful to be a part of it. It is just a wonderful cast, so talented, and the understudies are just as talented. The crew is fabulous, the management is great, our orchestra is great! I can’t say enough glorious, wonderful compliments about how I feel about the show. The part is, you know, she was an empress of all of Russia and she has empathy and humanity and has some humor…she goes deep with what she says. So there’s emotion and humor, and I like to make people cry [she made me cry] and I like to make people happy [she definitely made me happy]. Thats why I went into this business in the first place. When I went into the 5th grade I knew this was the gift I was given… because it lifts people. Music, theatre, entertainment, it lifts peoples hearts and souls….it’s healing. 

Heather: That is so true! You can really change emotions and feelings just through your performing and that is so amazing! So even though you have a little less stage time as the Dowager Empress your role is one of the MOST impactful in the story. What would you say has been most rewarding for you in playing that role?

Joy: Besides it being just so fulfilling as an actress and as a human being, it is a very fulfilling role even though I am not THE star of the show. The journey, her journey, is quite wonderful. She never gives up hope and this show, I feel, is very inspiring, very inspirational because it is about love, hope, and not giving up on your dreams. And that’s how I am too. I keep talking my dreams alive. 


Victoria Bingham (Young Anastasia) and Joy Franz (Dowager Empress)  in the National Tour of Anastasia, photo by Evan Zimmerman

Heather: It is really interesting that you say that because prior to the interview I was doing some reading and searching and I can not tell you how many snippets of posts I saw from others who spoke of you. One of the things I saw over and over was how inspiring you are to them…how you had instilled so much hope in them. It was easy to see how you are so well suited to this role in the way that you describe the Dowager Empress.

So I know “Journey to the Past” is probably one of the most well known songs in the show. I specifically remember as a child watching the Anastasia cartoon and my favorite song was “Once Upon a December” Do you have a favorite song from the show and why it is your favorite?

Joy: Well, besides mine, which I just love…I would say “Journey to the Past.” It’s at the very beginning where she starts talking and singing about hope, love, and family, and that is what she is singing about and longing for. I think deep down everyone wants that. It is what is happening in the world today. So many people don’t know about love, and loving themselves, and being able to give that love and forgiveness. To be able to respect each others differences…haha…I got off on another tangent…[I love this, finally someone whose brain I can understand]. The music…oh the music…Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are amazing! The music and the lyrics are meshed and support each other so perfectly! And Terrence McNally’s story, which it’s not a replica or anything, was “inspired” by the movies. He is amazing! I finally got to meet him in Providence, and I’ve wanted to meet him, he is such and icon.

The most important words that I say in the show, which touch my soul deeply, is with Anastasia and myself, its a beautiful scene, the recognition scene we call it, and Anastasia asks me, “Do you remember the last time you saw Anastasia?” and I say “I didn’t know it was the last time, we never do, we never know which good bye is the last.” That hits me and that is true. Staying in the moment with people is so important and when you say good bye to someone. My good friend in NY just died on Christmas, and I saw him but I didn’t get to talk to him much further because he wasn’t well. You know, all of that is respecting and paying attention to the moments….its called mindfulness…be mindful. We can’t love everyone but we can respect them, and even if you can’t respect them we can be kind. So that sentence that I say is the most important message. 

Heather: It is so powerful, even while just speaking about it here, it gives me Goosebumps.

Joy: It is,  and I am so grateful I get to be her and say those beautiful words that have such depth.

Heather: I write to parents and a lot of them have daughters, and my daughter is just 5, but I’m sure daughters and mothers of all ages will be there…

Joy: Oh, yes, totally, they treat us like rock stars, and they just scream, and standing ovations, way up in the balconies you can see them… and I just adore that!

Heather: That has to be so much fun!

Joy: Oh, it is! It is so uplifting…the screaming…applause…the laughter! They get it! They understand it. Boys, men, women, children, they get it! 

Heather: Other than all of the other amazing, inspiring things we have talked about, what is one of the most important things you hope the audience takes home with them after watching the show?

Joy: Never give up on your dreams! Talk your dreams alive. No matter what you want to go into. One of the quotes that I tell people, you know, we sign autographs at the end of the show, and I tell people we are divinely designed for success. So stand tall and accept it! We don’t accept it enough. Most of us don’t really think we are worthy of it. It goes back to self-worth. But accepting that we are divinely designed for success…know it and accept it. And you have to work. Yes, you have to work for it. You go to school or whatever you want to be in life, it doesn’t matter. Whether it is acting or dancing…oh the dancing is gorgeous…oh my…I just went off on another tangent. (chuckles)

Heather: Well, let’s talk about that!

Joy: Two of the dancers, Claire and Mark, they are just beautiful…everyone is just beautiful. And of course, we have our comedy team. So much fun! And our leading young men. Just everyone. But I think anyone can walk away from this show and say, “Yes, I can do it.” Whatever they want to do in life. Yes you can, you can! Believing, trusting and knowing it! And a lot of people don’t know what they want to do in life. Which I had a hard time understanding that when I was younger because I just knew. There was no doubt in my mind. So that was it…I just knew it. And I knew I would always work…I said, well, they have to have older people too. 

Heather: That is so great for people to hear. Sometimes people have dreams but there is not really anyone to reinforce that and just tell them that they can, that they are allowed to even dream. That is all they need. Thank you for being one of those people. I know I’ve personally struggled with that for many years…

[This is where I went off on my dream tangent and Joy gave me the courage to believe I could pretty much do anything I want.]

It just takes one person to believe in you and I appreciate that in you…that spirit that you have. And it is so important to these young people who hear it. They say..well…she said I can do it…so I am sure going to try. Right now my daughter wants to be a superhero, ballerina, karate master, and we will see where she goes with all of that. I am not entirely sure what her dreams are going to develop into but it is so much fun to encourage that.

8 - Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) and the company of the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade.

Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) and the company of the National Tour of Anastasia, photo by Evan Zimmerman

If anyone is on the fence about coming to watch the show, what would you say to them to tell them this is a MUST see show.

Joy: Get off that fence and come and see it..haha! Open your mind and heart to be inspired by a beautiful show. It might resonate within you. If you have any doubts just come and see it…you will not…not be disappointed, I promise you. The costumes are gorgeous, the technology is absolutely breathtaking, breathtakingly beautiful. I would say you would be missing a great deal. 

Oh, I can’t forget, you know, when you do a show it really starts at the top, and that is the director. Darko Tresnjak is just a phenomenal director with heart and soul and inspiration. He didn’t want us to be a duplicate of the Broadway performers and it just felt free and safe to bring what we have as a performer to the role. That is extrememly important! This phenomenal director and is assistant Sarah, the two of them are amazing! It really starts from the very top. And of course we have wonderful producers. I just feel very blessed and grateful to be a part of it. 

Heather: Well we really appreciate you and are looking forward to seeing you on the stage and all that Anastasia brings!

If that doesn’t inspire you to get out and watch the show then I do not think anything I can say will convince you! Get your tickets HERE!

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