“UnREAL” fans, take note. Ruby, the “Everlasting” contestant and Black Lives Matter activist who managed to stay true to herself and make a splash in the show’s Season 2 finale, is headed to Broadway.
OK, Ruby herself isn’t going — but Denée Benton, the actress who played her, is. Come October, Benton will be starring alongside Josh Groban in the musical “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.” Are you excited? We’re excited! Let us tell you why.
“The Great Comet” is adapted from an excerpt of War and Peace.
Instead of trying to jam the entirety of Tolstoy’s epic into a reasonable amount of time, composer Dave Malloy hones in on a 70-page section of the novel that focuses on the newly engaged Natasha’s (Benton) affair with dashing officer Anatole. We see their affair develop as friends like Pierre (Groban), who’s looking for some meaning in existence, watch. So, book nerds, you might want to grab your tickets.
The show has proven successful already.
This isn’t the first rodeo for “The Great Comet.” The production debuted at Ars Nova theater in 2012 — with none other than Philippa Soo playing Natasha — where it had a sold-out run. The musical remained in New York in various locales until it moved to the American Repertory Theatre in Boston, where Benton first played Natasha. For its Broadway production, the musical will move to New York’s Imperial Theater, where Rachel Chavkin will once again direct.
And it has a crazy seating chart.
One especially cool aspect about “The Great Comet” is its immersive stage design. According to Playbill, the 2012 production featured runways and platforms that were set among audience members, some of whom were seated at tables right in the thick of the action. It appears that the Imperial Theater will also incorporate this unique staging. Don’t expect to find the traditional setup of orchestra, mezzanine, etc. seating — as Variety reported, the effect feels like the “culmination of a wild night in Moscow.”
This role is Benton’s Broadway debut — oh, and she’s 24.
Benton studied musical theater at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, which also happens to be the alma mater of your “Hamilton” faves Renée Elise Goldsberry and Leslie Odom, Jr.
Onstage, Benton played Nabulungi in the West End and U.S. national tour of the hit show “The Book of Mormon” in 2014, a role that made her leave Carnegie Mellon a semester early.
Her first major TV role came this year while playing “Everlasting” contestant Ruby on “UnREAL,” one of the many ladies vying for football player Darius Beck’s affections. Ruby was one of the most engaging characters in the Lifetime show’s sophomore season that had many plates to keep spinning in the air. She wore shirts with slogans like “I Can’t Breathe” and “No Justice, No Peace,” bringing the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of the pop culture conversation.
Benton’s casting as a 19th-century Slavic aristocrat is a hopeful sign that diverse Broadway casts don’t begin and end with “Hamilton.”
While many praised Broadway and the industry’s Tony Awards this year for being a diversified foil to the still very-white Oscars lineup, “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda said he feared it was “just a fluke.” Based on Broadway’s track record (95 percent of Tony nominees have been white, historically), there wasn’t much reason to believe that the 2015-16 season was much more than an outlier.
Could Benton’s leading role be a sign that the Great White Way is ready for a lasting and more representative change? We can’t say for sure until we see the slate of other shows to come this fall, but it’s a good sign.
The show has fan art already.
Artists, get on that!
“Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” will begin previews in October 2016. You can check out a trailer here: