Last Friday night, I saw Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. The music, lyrics, and book were by Dave Malloy, and it was directed by Rachel Chavkin. At 12 nominations, it was the most-nominated show for the Tony’s this year (June 11, watch it!), so I thought for sure I should check it out.
And it was really good…but it didn’t wow me. I think my expectations were a little too high coming in. Per usual, I didn’t know much about the show, but I learned pretty quickly that it was an operetta and that was very expository. I understood it came from Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which isn’t the simplest text, but it just seemed like they spent a lot of time telling me exactly what was happening instead of actually doing the thing they were singing about.
It’s all about a certain aesthetic that the director is using; an aesthetic that I actually liked. I thought it worked well in the world of the play. It’s like a glittery, underground, colorful, punk, Russia-in-the-19th-century, EDM vibe. Honestly, imagine a New York subway after Comic Con the same weekend as the Renaissance Festival, stopping in the Financial District and that’s about it. But those are just the costumes (designed by Paloma Young).
The other part of it are the set and lights (designed by Mimi Lien and Bradley King, respectively). The set is like a cabaret, with audience interspersed throughout the set on multiple levels. From where I was sitting in the second balcony, I could see most all of the action and the actors were event interacting with the audience members, sitting at their cabaret-style tables, putting their arms around them occasionally. It was fun for everyone.
The lights were these gorgeous chandeliers that descended from the ceiling. Little individual bulbs shone among them and everywhere it was glittery and decadent. I even had a little table next to me where a seat might be, and on it, was a lamp that would turn on and off when needed. There a couple songs sung to and about the moon and the stars. With those songs, the entire room sparkled with the gleaming lights.
The choreography, by Sam Pinkleton, was absolutely excellent, but I wanted to see so much more of it. There were way too few moments which utilized the skill of the actors on stage. These actors were musicians, dancers, singers, and actors, but I thought that they really shone in their dancing and singing. (The acting could be robotic at times). The music was incredibly unique and played a lot with dissonance and using melodies/harmonies interchangeably. I haven’t yet mentioned, but JOSH. GROBAN. He led the cast as Pierre. He played piano, drums, and sang. And when I say that Josh Groban’s voice is that of an angel and it can *raise me up so I can stand on mountains,* I meant it. He was truly a force to be reckoned with.
Another man who showed up to win was Lucas Steele, who played Anatole. His character is so utterly unlikable, but he himself was so talented. He bounded across the set, picked up a violin and immediately started playing, he sung falsetto notes that I guarantee, I could not hit.
The entire play lagged near the finale and ended on quite a bummer of a note. Ok, so they sing about the great comet at the end, but honestly, it’s kind of nothing and nothing comes of it. The musical is said to be based on a 70-page selection from War and Peace, but I feel like they didn’t actually finish the story here. It was: boy falls in love with girl (after seeing her one time, while he still has a wife, whatever), girl is generally ambivalent, and then boy sings about a comet. Josh Groban lifts his angel-voice to the heavens, but that’s it.
I’m giving this musical a 7/10. I wasn’t overwhelmed, I wasn’t underwhelmed, I was just “whelmed.” I liked a lot of aspects of the show, like the choreography, but I wanted to see more of that and way less exposition.