Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is based on a sliver of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The AND is very important here because it is insurance that the comet will show up. It does. In the last gasping nanno-seconds of the production while Josh Grobin (Pierre), in fine voice, finishes up his final-final lament.
This is the story of Natasha (Denée Benton) a young woman brought to Moscow to while away the hours buying dresses and attending balls while her fiancé Andrey (Nicholas Belton) is off to fight the war (of 1812 – we had one here as well – busy year). She and her cousin Sonya (Brittain Ashford) are left with Natasha’s godmother Marya D. (Grace McLean who positively crackles). Soon they are seduced by the glitter of Moscow. The war is far away and life and winter are brimming with possibilities. When Natasha is spotted by Anatole (Lucas Steele) who is a womanizer of the most attractive and slimy sort, she becomes the center of his desire. His passion has no boundaries and he enlists the help of his sister Hélène (the spectacular Amber Gray recently seen in Hadestown) to get Natasha to a certain ball so that he may, in words of one syllable, seduce her. Hmmmnnn sounds like a certain someone on a bus…
Now mind you, this is the first sign of a plot point, and it comes a full 20-30 minutes into the show. Prior to that we are greeted with what can only be called a pageant. It is a mighty one. Rachel Chavkin’s direction has a grand sense of style and movement. She has refined the staging to the tiniest degree and this superb cast never misses a beat. Choreography by Sam Pinkleton, sets by Mimi Lien, costumes by Paloma Young and the lighting by Bradley King (with the exception of heavy use of strobes) all fit together like a Disney Spectacular in your lap. The ensemble is bold and vibrant, and the choral performance would rival any holiday choir. Mormon Tabernacle – eat your heart out.
Once this plot point does arrive, however, everything settles into predictability. And PS I have never read War and Peace, just for the record. The production morphs into Anna Karenina meets Godspell. Great sweeping trails of song about desire (he to her) and love/fear (she to him) and how this is not such a very good way for a betrothed woman to act (everyone except Hélène to her). Soon Natasha has thrown the proverbial caution to the wind and tossed Andrey under the bus in favor of the beautifully appointed dilettante (why is he not in the army – anyone?) who, when he hears her speak of love looks like someone who won an election he had not planned on winning.
The talent here is mighty. Across the board. The story, however, could have been condensed into a tight 90 minutes extravaganza. As it is the themes are repeated over and over and over – and not in nuanced ways. Repetition overcomes talent as well as spectacle and wears the listener down.
As to the seating – this is part of the pageantry. There are audience members sprinkled creatively throughout the stage in seats as “upholstered banquettes, arm chairs and regular chairs.
It is always a wonder, when I read other reviewers, to think that we all see roughly the same production. The heaps of praise from certain corners is substantial. To be sure this is a visual spectacle that you rarely see on Broadway. Without the spectacle, however, the story does not stand up.
"The Imperial Theater, where the rapturous musical 'Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812' blazed opened on Monday night, has never looked more imperial — or felt more intimate. Who would have guessed that Dave Malloy’s gorgeous pop opera, adapted from a slice of Tolstoy’s 'War and Peace,' would land on Broadway with all its signal virtues intact, and in some ways heightened?"
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Josh Groban makes a terrific Broadway debut in the ear- and eye-popping 'Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812'... the show is bold and affecting and a welcome addition to the Great White Way."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Despite the romantic trauma of the plot, The Great Comet leaves you glowing with hope: for redemption through kindness in the face of ruin, and for a brighter future in the face of terrible omens. It’s a wonderful, soul-stirring escape."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"It’s best for people who want to say they experienced a cool immersive experience on Broadway, but one without any heart. It’s pure showmanship with none of the emotional payoff."
Mark Kennedy for Associated Press
"It arrives on Broadway in superlative shape, its humor, emotional content and rip-roaring storytelling every bit as vibrant as its madly infectious score."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"A luscious, 360-degree immersive experience that feels like being smothered in velvet."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...