Tonight I saw another Broadway show – Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. It’s a show I knew next to nothing about before seeing it. All I knew was that it was based on a small chunk of War and Peace, and that it was recommended that you read the synopsis in the Playbill beforehand, so you know what’s going on. In fact, the opening number, Prologue, advised the same thing.
The staging was magnificent, with the performing area sneaking out, into, and through the audience in the auditorium, and with lots of seating on the stage, allowing some lucky audience members to get up close and personal with the cast as they performed. This blurring of the lines between performers and audience made for an interesting experience, and if you want to see the show, and if you don’t mind paying the premium, I’d recommend sitting at one of the tables onstage.
And what of the show, itself?
The Great Comet is an opera, so you’ll need to recalibrate if you’re expecting a straight Broadway musical. Written by Dave Malloy and directed by Rachel Chavkin, it’s a small story. Natasha is engaged to be married to Andre, who is away at war (he certainly isn’t here). She visits her godmother, and finds herself seduced by Anatole – a handsome scoundrel who professes his love. But though the story is small, the personal stakes are high, and the score is filled with emotion from start to finish.
It’s difficult to pull out individual highlights, but I’ll try.
The absolute highlight for me was Brittain Ashford as Natasha’s cousin and confident, Sonya. Sonya Alone will be with me for quite a while to come.
Josh Groban is the show’s big name. His performance as Pierre grounds the show and he acts as its drunken, flawed conscience. He has relatively little to do in the first act, but shows what he’s made of in the second half. Pierre also acts as Groban’s unofficial audition for the role of Tevye in perhaps a decade or so, and I’ll be queueing for tickets for that!
Lucas Steele plays Anatole like an evil Disney prince, and I half expected him to belt out Agony at inopportune moments. Another great performance. Believable and real.
Denée Benton is ostensibly the star of the show, and the quality of her performance of Natasha would single her out for praise in any other show, but the sheer quality of the cast in this show means she’s just going to have to accept she’ll need to share the limelight.
The ensemble were magnificent, and sounded better than every other cast I’ve seen on Broadway, the West End or any other theatre.
It’s a complex show, despite the simplicity of the storyline, but it’s rewarding, and I can’t wait to see it again.
The one thing that always frustrates me about seeing Broadway shows is that every performance of every show seems to elicit a standing ovation. We’re rather more reserved in the UK and reserve standing for those performances that are extraordinary and rare. Standing for every show weakens the act, and means you have nowhere else to go for the truly remarkable shows.
Tonight I stood. And I meant it.
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is playing at the Imperial Theater on 45th Street and is highly recommended.