By Isa Goldberg
Seeing THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 for the third time, and now with Josh Groban as Pierre at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway, I found the story itself so much clearer. Based on a segment of Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE, the musical’s plot is dense, and the relationships between the characters so tangled, that the story gets lost in the epic scope of the show. While its impact lies in this sense of endearing mystery, the underlying human experience remains inexplicable and otherworldly.
But Groban, an operatic pop singer, has the gift of a great storyteller. In his own soul-searching performances, he sings about intimate experiences, opening the door for the audience to see who he is. Often these songs are about the quest for love or failed love. Here, in his Broadway debut, his silvery, well-balanced voice paints pictures so vividly, we don’t get lost in the on-stage mania, which is nearly bacchanalian at times. In the Russia of 1812 after all, we’re on the threshold of Napoleon’s invasion and the Great War of 1812. Events are spiraling out of control.
Enter Groban’s Pierre – an existential anti-hero, a brooding man, in an unhappy marriage. As in Tolstoy’s novel, it’s he who brings the human dimension to the story. His surprising transformation, inspired by the realization of his love for Natasha and his apocryphal vision of the Comet of 1812, speak to the restorative power of love and faith. Groban, an awesome romantic lead, pulls it off.
249 W 45th St, New York, NY 10036
Running time: Two Hours, 35 Minutes
Photo: Chad Batka