This weekend, I went from Boston, to Manhattan, to 19th century Russia, and back again–and by that I mean, I saw Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway!
After grabbing a delicious brunch at Sarabeth’s Park Avenue South (my go-to spot!) with my friend Kayla, we went back to the theatre district for our matinees! Kayla got last-minute tickets to see Waitress (she got to box office about 20 minutes before the show and scored $79 “partial view” tickets! (she said nothing was actually obstructed)) and I picked up my tickets for Great Comet (I splurged and purchased them ahead of time).
When you first walk into the Imperial Theatre, the walls are colorless, covered in political propaganda posters reminiscent of the imperial Russian rule under which the show takes place. It’s a bit unsettling, and you don’t know quite how to react. But once you get past the ticket scanners, you enter the lavish world of the Russian elite. From the ornate, celestial chandeliers to the dumplings being passed around by ensemblists before the show, the creative team truly thought of every detail to immerse the audience in the world of the show.
The story itself is taken from a 70-page slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, following Natasha (Denée Benton), a young princess whose fiancé is off fighting in the war, and Pierre (Josh Groban), a wealthy, unhappily married man struggling with his purpose in life. Natasha is swept away by the dashing Anatole (Lucas Steele), and goes on a journey complete with awkward meetings with future-in-laws, an amorous evening at the opera, and a daring foray into the radical Russian nightlife.
I’ve never seen a show on Broadway before where the cast dances two feet in front of you or sings directly at you. Or, for some audience members, where the cast joins your table, inviting you into the scene. The set of Great Comet is a swirling sight, cascading throughout the entire theatre with platforms, staircases, and “candle”-lit side tables dotted between the seats. Everyone is in on a secret, all drawn in to the operatic experience, swept away by the irresistible glamour and intrigue of the ensemble’s dramatic exploits.
Dave Malloy’s score has influences from Russian folk, indie rock, classic opera, and EDM–all genres you would never expect to blend together, but it works so well that it’s mesmerizing and you never want it to stop. The melodies are haunting and the orchestrations give you chills. The most magical moments are when the ensemble, scattered throughout the orchestra, the mezzanine, and the stage, sing soaring harmonies, engulfing the audience in glorious refrain. Other times, the music accelerates into a rambunctious celebration of life and you want to get up out of your seat to join the party.
The lighting design by Bradley King is breathtaking. Sitting up in the mezzanine, and even in the orchestra, there are chandeliers and dangling light bulbs mere feet above your head, so their beauty is not lost on you. It’s almost like looking up at a dazzling night sky, shimmering with gold splendor.
As the show progressed, with the intense, intentional escapism from the war going on just beyond closed doors, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret. As Great Comet‘s opening song goes, “Chandeliers and caviar, the war can’t touch us here.” But that, and the at times provocative ensemblists, are as far as the comparisons go–Great Comet is an entity all its own.
While this is truly an ensemble piece, it would be remiss to write about Great Comet without mentioning the exceptional performances by Josh Groban (Pierre), Denée Benton (Natasha), Brittain Ashford (Sonya) and Lucas Steele (Anatole). Each actor and actress gave an evocative, heartfelt performance that truly helped propel the story along, keeping the audience emotionally engaged and invested in the characters they embodied.
Nearly 150 years after War and Peace‘s publication, the story continues to enthrall audiences in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway. From the beginning of its journey at Ars Nova, to productions both off-Broadway and at the A.R.T., Great Comet has truly found its home on the Great White Way. I can’t recommend it enough, and I hope you get the chance to see it. While any seat in the house is great, I loved sitting in the front row center of the rear mezzanine.
Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is now playing on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://greatcometbroadway.com/.