Review: “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”: An Epic Pop Opera

great comet

My teen and I had a particularly unique theatrical experience the other night in NYC and it’s called Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

All I can say is, what took me so long? I love grand historical musicals on this scale. It was also truly a great choice for my teen, too. It’s a slice of history AKA War and Peace by Tolstoy, about a family in Russia circa 1812; it’s a love story; it’s a tragedy. It’s educational; it’s entertaining; the music is amazing. But it’s just so much more.

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

It’s a pop opera of epic proportion. The theater is decorated with red velvet drapery and 19th century Russian paintings, and big chandeliers, giving one the impression of a Russian nightclub. It’s an interactive, immersive experience that carefully integrates the audience into the story, making it feel even more compelling than if it was performed otherwise. The theater is in the round, with some of the audience members right on stage alongside the cast. The actors use the entire space so that you feel as though you are part of the production rather than just watching it.

We were lucky to sit on stage at a cocktail table, where we were treated to delicious pierogis at the start of the show. The people next to us were given glasses of vodka during the show. One of the actors gave my teen a letter during the show. At times, we were fortunate to have the cast singing directly to us. The cast is professional and engaging and at times downright awe-inspiring and breathtaking. Denee Benton who plays Natasha is simply sublime and Josh Groban who plays an aristocrat, Pierre, is perfection and surprisingly not the show’s centerpiece. He’s part of an ensemble, and each actor skillfully makes their mark. I was glad to see him not using his star power to make himself the star of this show. He happens to sit quietly near the front of the orchestra during the majority of the time.

The story is a bit complex, but it doesn’t really matter if you keep up or not (though my daughter did explain some of the plot to me during intermission). The music, strobe lights, dancing and special effects are exciting enough to hold anyone’s attention. It follows the journey of Countess Natasha Rostova and her cousin Sonya who arrive in Moscow during the winter of 1812 to visit her godmother, Princess Marya D, while she awaits her fiancé, Prince Andrey to return home from the war. While waiting for him, she falls in love with Anatole, a womanizer who is already married. In the end, the Comet of 1812 makes an appearance and Pierre helps restore harmony. Along the way, he is primarily the voice of the peace and an incredible musician, playing the accordion and piano alongside the show’s accomplished orchestra.

In addition to Benton and Groban, the rest of the cast is outstanding. Lucas Steele, Brittain Ashford, Amber Gray, Grace McLean, Gelsey Bell, Nicholas Belton, Nick Choksi, and Paul Pinto have solos and they rock their hearts out. The ensemble of 22 characters who circle the entire theater countless times are all impeccable and clearly having a great time. The set designer, the costume designer, composer David Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin are all to thank for bringing this production to the NYC stages, and I expect it will win big at the Tony Awards.

And the songs are memorable, particularly “Dust and Ashes” – just read the lyrics:

They say we are asleep
Until we fall in love
We are children of dust and ashes
But when we are in love we wake up
And we are a god
And angels weep
But if I die here tonight
I die in my sleep

They say we are asleep
Until we fall in love
And I’m so ready
To wake up now

It’s beautiful, right? Now watch the video – it will give you a good idea about the show and how truly special it is.

Head here for tickets.

Disclosure: I received tickets to this show on a complimentary basis to facilitate this review and others, but all opinions are my own.

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