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In 2013, a giant red tent in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District played host to a rowdy electropop opera called Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. Three years later, the fiery, immersive retelling of Tolstoy’s War and Peace has finally arrived on the Great White Way. Here’s why Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway is the season’s must-see show.
The Great Comet on Broadway far outdoes ever-buzzy Hamilton as far as bringing new song styles to Broadway is concerned. Its witty lyrics, racy chorus numbers and strobe lights bring new life to 19th century Russia. Dave Malloy’s music and lyrics take a subplot of Tolstoy’s 1869 epic novel, War and Peace, and transform it into a fast-paced, impassioned opera. It’s a hypnotic blend of Russian folk melodies, EDM, indie rock tunes and ballads, often in the same song.
Making light of Tolstoy’s story in the opening song, the cast tells audiences to pay attention, “cuz it’s a complicated Russian novel, everyone’s got nine different names.” Thankfully, director Rachel Chavkin’s production streamlines that. The opera’s plot concerns only a fraction of the story from Tolstoy’s original 1,200 page novel. While her fiancé Andrey is off at war, Natasha falls in love with the dashing Anatole in Moscow. Her emotions muddled, she must now choose how to proceed, incidentally affecting the rest of the characters.
Most of the cast dates from the original 2013 production, including Brittain Ashford, Gelsey Bell, Lucas Steele, and Amber Gray. Ashford plays Sonya, Natasha’s loyal cousin. Belle returns as Sonya and Natasha’s strict godmother, determined to block any dealings between Natasha and Anatole, played by Steele. Amber Gray shines again as Hélene, Anatole’s tart of a sister, who flirts and schemes constantly. She’s married to Pierre, who’s played by Josh Groban. Despite having a titular role, Groban spends most of the time in the orchestra pit, drinking his depression away while the other characters flit about. Denée Benton leads the cast as Natasha (a role originally played by Phillipa Soo of Hamilton fame). Benton’s Natasha is naïver than Soo’s, singing with youthful assurance even as her life’s stability crumbles.
Onstage seating places 200 audience members in the middle of the action, as cast members move around the seats, often singing directly to star-struck guests. In most numbers as well, the cast enters the main audience section as well, with dances occurring in elevated orchestra aisles (a lá Lion King) and up in the balcony. Pro tip: For the best views, sit in one of the first rows of banquette seats for eye-level views (in red on the map below). For the most interaction with the cast, sit at one the on-stage tables in the back center of the stage between the banquettes (in yellow below).