The wild party at the Imperial Theater known as Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is not your usual samovar affair. This entertainment, referencing 70 pages of Tolstoy's masterpiece War & Peace, has its own backstory: two downtown versions had the performers mingling among the guests, diners at a banquet. While that novelty is not repeated on Broadway, the audience is privy to the gesture. The Imperial Theater is converted to a kind of supper club, music at center, with tables all the way to the stage, although the staging is not distinctly separated from the theater's ample front area. Ramps just about everywhere allow the company to enter and exit, and dance, offering--throwing-- boxed knishes to those strategically seated. Small bars serve vodka at intermission. A coffee table sized book describes the journey of this new musical to Broadway.
In Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway, compiled and edited by Steven Suskin, the creative team provides chapters: director Rachel Chavkin, to producer Howard Kagan, to designer Mimi Lien, to costume designer Paloma Young, to choreographer Sam Pinkleton, to lighting designer Bradley King, to composer/ author Dave Malloy who explains his annotated script here provided. Diane Paulus illuminates the play's unusual context: "theater has its roots in socially engaging audiences." The key actors too have their say. Of the principals, on the night I attended the show, I saw the lovely and very talented Denee Benton as Natasha; she explains in her essay why playing this role enlarged her view of the kinds of parts she's able to play. Lucas Steele's essay reveals that they were looking for a David Bowie type for the role of Anatole. Ah, now I understand what drew me to this cad of a character, ably performed by Josh Canfield the night I attended.
But if I longed for the charisma and distinct voice of Josh Groban as the brooding Pierre--I did not see him: Scott Stangland stood in and he was fine--I could at least be appeased by the book's bonus, a CD with two new recordings from this Broadway production, featuring Josh Groban backed by a 25-piece orchestra. I can hear him still in my mind's ear.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.