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Josh Groban in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Josh Groban in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
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Our #ShowOfTheWeek was one of the most eagerly anticipated Broadway openings of the Fall. Partly due to its stellar reputation, built over various off-Broadway and out-of-town incarnations, and partly due to the long-awaited Broadway debut of a certain platinum-selling recording artist who goes by the name of Josh Groban, crowds have flocked to the Imperial Theatre to experience Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 – what I can only describe as a modern masterpiece.

Dave Malloy’s pop rock opera began life back in 2012 at the off-Broadway venue of Ars Nova. After proving to be a convincing hit for the company, the show transferred to a purpose-built, pop-up venue called Kazino in the Meatpacking District in 2013. Later that year, Kazino moved up towards the Times Square area and the buzz continued to grow. The next chapter of the Comet’s life saw the mounting of a production at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which played from December 2015 through to January 2016. Finally, for Natasha, Pierre and the rest of the Russian crew, it was full steam ahead to Broadway and an official opening at the Imperial Theatre on November 14th of last year.

Superbly directed by Rachel Chavkin, the Broadway production endeavours to maintain the charm of the original smaller scale productions, by surrounding the audience with mounted catwalks and pathways, immersing patrons in a 360 degree experience. At times I was spoiled for choice as actors were placed around me in seemingly every different direction, dancing and interacting with audience members. The stage itself is also littered with the general public, some in tiered seating and some at cabaret tables. Designer Mimi Lien has somehow worked a wonder in transforming the Imperial Theatre into a velvety, Russian-style dinner club, evoking an intimate sense of rawness and inclusivity. Sporadically we also become part of the action of the scenes – no spoilers here though as these moments are part of the unique beauty of the piece.

The narrative is taken from a 70-page slice of Leo Tolstoy’s epic “War and Peace,” but worry not if you’ve never laid a finger on this classic, as the musical is fairly self-explanatory and distinguishes itself from its source material with a more timeless interpretation. Some of the lavish costumes may be period, but Malloy’s score and production elements (which include strobe lighting and glow-sticks at one point) are anything but. In the same way that Hamilton revolutionised the art of musical theatre in the 21st century, The Great Comet also uses a plethora of modern devices to bring characters of the past to thrilling life.

Josh Groban does not disappoint in his Broadway debut as Pierre with his rich, baritone vocals and proves his acting chops and Denée Benton, who took over the role of Natasha from original off-Broadway cast member Phillipa Soo, delights with an enchantingly youthful performance. Indeed the entire cast moulds together with such a natural ease and bursts into the auditorium and up onto the mezzanine with such ferocity, that it was a struggle to remain seated and not join in the merriment. Cast member Brittain Ashford gives beautifully wrought renditions of “Sonya Alone” and “Natasha Very Ill” and Lucas Steele steals scenes with his roguish charm.

Check out our interviews with original cast members Brittain Ashford and Lucas Steele.

With such a packed spring of new musical openings coming up, it will be interesting to see how Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 fares when the nominations are announced for the 71st Annual Tony Awards, but I for one would not be surprised to see it garnering a generous sprinkling of much-deserved recognition. This one is not to be missed!

Click here for tickets to Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, currently booking through to September 3rd, 2017 at Broadway's Imperial Theatre.

- by Tom Millward

Production Details
Venue: Imperial Theatre
Genre: Musical
Previewed: 18 Oct 2016
Opened: 14 Nov 2016
Book, Music & Lyrics: Dave Malloy
Director: Rachel Chavkin

Synopsis: Dave Malloy's adaptation of a 70-page slice of War and Peace puts audiences just inches away from Tolstoy's brash young lovers, as they light up Moscow in an epic tale of romance and passion.

Cast: Josh Groban (Pierre), Denée Benton (Natasha), Brittain Ashford (Sonya), Gelsey Bell (Princess Mary), Nicholas Belton (Bolkonsky/Andrey), Nick Choksi (Dolokhov), Amber Gray (Helene), Grace McLean (Marya D), Paul Pinto (Balaga) and Lucas Steele (Anatole)




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