Does a musical based on a part of the Tolstoy classic novel War and Peace sound like a snooze? Well, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is anything but. With its innovative staging, large cast of mostly newcomers, no spoken dialogue (the show is entirely sung by the cast) and an almost unrecognizeable singer Josh Groban playing a schlubby, bookish Pierre, this is a show that must be seen to be fully appreciated. Describing it doesn't do it justice.
There is no real stage- there are tiers of tables and walkways where the cast sing, dance and play instruments around the tables. The opening number Prologue starts the show with an enthusiastic bang that let the audience know they are in for something fresh and exciting.
The cast is large, and periodically during the show they hand out pierogies to snack on, love letters, pages from the actual book War And Peace, and plastic eggs filled with rice to shake along with a song to audience members. They even sat next to audience members at certain points, involving them in the action.
My sisters-in-law and I sat at a table below the main walkway, and we had to pay attention to the various cast members who sang to us and whirled by us dancing. This is not a show where you can take a little snooze, nor would you want to.
Denee Benton usually plays Natasha, whose fiancee has gone off to war, but at our performance we saw Shoba Narayan, making her Broadway debut. Her role is the largest in the show, and she will be a star if this show is any indication. She played Natasha with a sense of wonder, joy and eventual sadness.
Josh Groban stops the show with his rendition of Dust and Ashes, showing us why he commands the stage at his concerts. It gave me goosebumps. (You can hear him singing it on the show's website.) Other cast standouts include Brittain Ashford, Gelsey Bell and Lucas Steele.
The best way to describe this show is if you put Hamilton, Once, and Les Miserables in a blender, you'd come out with The Great Comet. This is a show that you will download the soundtrack (as I did) and play it on repeat to catch all of the things you missed at the theater.
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is the most inventive musical of the year, with an amazing score, don't miss this one. Bravo to Dave Malloy who wrote the music, lyrics, book and did the orchestrations.
The website for The Great Comet is here.