By: Ellis Nassour
The spectacular Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre, & THE GREAT COMET of 1812 has been hailed as a theatrical experience like no other. Dave Malloy’s musical puts audiences right into the middle of the romance and passion of brash young lovers as they and a huge cast light up Moscow in this lavish staging. The production has transformed the Imperial Theatre into a compact version of opulent, imperial Russia – with crystal chandeliers dropping from the flies, stunning costumes, and ramps and bridges that take the players, dancers, and some musicians from various onstage tiers to throughout the orchestra and into the mezz and balcony. And you get a snack.
Now you can get an up-close-and-personal look at the making of this musical with the equally lavish book Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 – the Journey of a New Musical to Broadway (Sterling Publishing; 212 glossy pages; 10 ¾” x 8 ¾” gold-trimmed hardcover, with the great comet emblazoned on it; over 160 photos – many full page, and images; Foreword by Oskar Eustis; SRP $40).
Malloy says he approached the show “as an experiment to put a novel onstage, melodicizing Tolstoy’s incredible narrative style. I wanted to embrace the old and the new, to be sincere and reverent, yet knowing and sharp, communing with but also commenting on the classicism without ever lapsing into irony or parody.”
The musical, inspired by a 70-page slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, had humble beginnings Off Broadway at Ars Nova, followed by a not-so-humble production in the northwest corner of Greenwich Village in a tent replete with clinking glasses of vodka and a sumptuous meal. The musical was reconceived for Broadway at A.R.T. (American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA) by director Rachel Chavkin, with choreography by Sam Pinkleton.
Starring are Denée Benton and Josh Groban in their Broadway debuts and, from the original cast, Lucas Steele as Anatole, Lortel Award-nominee golden-voiced Brittain Ashford as Sonya, Amber Gray as Hélène, Gelsey Bell as Princess Mary, Nicholas Belton as Andrey/Bolkonsky, Nick Choksi as Dolokhov, Grace McLean as Marya, in addition to a 20-strong cast and ensemble.
… The Great Comet … book is compiled and edited by theater journalist and author Steven Susskind and Malloy, who also provides the script and insightful annotations. A CD of five songs — three from the original Off-Broadway original cast album [Ghostlight Records] two new recordings for Broadway featuring Groban, and 25-piece orchestra — with music supervision by Sonny Paladino and musical direction by Or Matias.
The score mixes classic Broadway with Russian balalaika, folkloric, pop, rock, soul, and electronic dance music.
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 – the Journey of a New Musical to Broadway takes you behind-the-scenes at the musical’s inception and paths to Off Broadway and Broadway, with cast portraits, sketches, and performance stills. There are essays by Groban, Benton, Steele, A.R.T. artistic director Diane Paulus, producer Howard Kagan, and Phllipa Soo (Hamilton; upcoming Amélie), who originiated the role of Natasha Off Broadway, as well as reflections from Malloy on his translation, and interviews with creatives.