Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

90Taking a sliver out of Tolstoy’s epic “War and Peace,” “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” transforms it into a high voltage rock opera à la “Cabaret.” Fortunately, this sliver reduces the plethora of Tsarist Russian aristocrats of the full novel to a manageable handful of main characters, and this production brings them to vivid life.

Natasha Rostova, the young, pretty, talented, romantic, but high-strung ingénue, is swept away, seduced, and almost elopes with the libertine, amoral Anatole Keratin. She is finally comforted and saved by Pierre Bezuhkov, a philosophical misfit who drinks too much and is Tolstoy’s alter ego.

Josh Grobin makes his Broadway debut as Pierre, padding his youthful frame to acquire the gravitas and ennui of his character. Since Pierre’s role is most important in the last scenes, Grobin helps out with the orchestra on accordion, piano, and percussion to keep his presence as Tolstoy’s narrative voice front and center throughout the show. In his final numbers, Grobin reminds us why the emotional power and deep sensitivity of his voice make him a multi-platinum star.

Natasha is newcomer Deneè Benton. Just two years out of acting school at Carnegie Mellon, she is a talent to be reckoned with. With her serene presence and silky voice, she could be the next Audra McDonald.

Lucas Steele makes a marvelous cad as Anatole. And, wow, can that villain sing!

The staging is almost psychedelic. There is no “fourth wall” here: some of the audience is on the stage and the action moves throughout the house with an ensemble that includes gypsies, hussars, musicians and ballerinas. Don’t come late: they won’t seat you because you’d collide with a cast member. Sit on the aisle and you might become part of the play, at least for a few seconds.

Tolstoy did not consider “War and Peace” to be a novel, but rather a melding of fiction, history, and philosophy. It’s hard to consider “The Great Comet” an opera because the music is high octane Broadway pop and the staging is avant garde. And nobody dies, at least not until Napoleon actually invades Russia after the curtain.

For more, please see another review on The VDP here.

Philip Neches

2 Responses to “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”

  1. Bravo to Howard & Janet Kagan who have stuck with this show from the start. They have transformed the Imperial Theatre into a most spectacular Russian nightclub for this performance.

    We’re fans and we’re rooting for them.

    Now “Natasha” is a Broadway production………just as unique as it was when we first saw it at Ars Nova……….and knowing the Kagans, my guess is that it will play in London in the not distant future.

  2. Charles Isherwood’s review in the New York Times today says it all.

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