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‘NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812’: (left to right) Josh Groban & Denée Benton. Photo: Chad Batka

 

 

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NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812
Music, Lyrics, Book & Orchestrations by David Malloy
Adapted from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Directed by Rachel Chavkin
Imperial Theatre
249 West 45th Street
(212-239-6200), www.greatcometbroadway.com

 

By David NouNou

I saw Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 exactly three years ago at the Kazino Theatre, which was in a tent set up with heaters right next to the Imperial Theatre. I thought I was experiencing one of the most dreadful musicals I had seen in a long time. It was bleak, dark, claustrophobic, listless and pointless; after all it was set in Russia. It was freezing inside the tent, my partner and I had our coats, gloves and scarves on all night–which I guess for some it might seem atmospheric, getting a sense of what it would be like to be in Siberia. I remember ushers/servers pushing vodka, beverages, and various food items at exorbitant prices and the audience was piled on top of one another on chairs and tables. I just wanted to get the hell out of there; needless to say the evening warranted one star.

What a difference three years later makes. It is now at the Imperial Theatre. The theatre has been magnificently redesigned with sets by Mimi Lien, beautifully and warmly lit by Bradley King and the costumes by Paloma Young are extraordinarily colorful. It is now colorful, open, and energetic, with a deliciously eclectic score by David Malloy that has Slavic overtones that captures the mood from sad ballads to the contemporary sound. In addition, the cast has been expanded, which now makes the musical more jubilant and exciting. And, of course, you have the wonderful Josh Groban. with his thrilling baritone voice.

You must remember that this is based on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace; there will be a lot of grief and heartbreak, characters that have at least five first names and a Moscow that was brimming with life and opulence. The story centers on Natasha (Denée Benton) saying goodbye to her fiancée, Andrey (Nicholas Belton) who goes off to war and she comes to Moscow to be with her cousin Sonya (Brittain Ashford) and her Godmother, Marya (Grace McLean). In the course of her socializing and experiencing new delights, she falls in love with Anatole (Lucas Steele), whose sister Helene (Amber Gray) is married to Pierre. In the midst of all this is somber Pierre, a friend to all and ultimately he has to clean up the mess that has taken place by all the revelers and revelry.

With all the revelry going on stage, the real deal here is Josh Groban. As an actor, he is perfect as Pierre, and as a singer he is outstanding. If nothing else he is worth the price of admission and more. Denée Benton is lovely as Natasha. Also noteworthy is Amber Gray as Helene, Pierre’s promiscuous wife. As for the rest, they vary in degrees of overplay due to the direction they were given by Rachel Chavkin. There is so much going on stage that you never know where to look; it is a lavish spectacle, frenetic, that at times it seems like a mashup of Cirque De Soleil butchering Leo Tolstoy. In this case so much is too much.

If you go with the purpose of seeing Josh Groban, you’ll not be disappointed, for he delivers the goods and his voice is heaven sent.

 

Edited by Scott Harrah
Published January 4, 2017
Reviewed at performance on January 3, 2017

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‘NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812’: Josh Groban. Photo: Chad Batka

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‘NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812’: Nick Choksi. Photo: Chad Batka

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‘NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812’: Denée Benton & Brittain Ashford. Photo: Chad Batka

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‘NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812’: Denée Benton. Photo: Chad Batka

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‘NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812’: (left to right) Lucas Steele & Denée Benton. Photo: Chad Batka

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‘NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812’: Josh Groban. Photo: Chad Batka

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‘NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812’: Denée Benton & Amber Gray. Photo: Chad Batka

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‘NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812’: Josh Groban & cast. Photo: Chad Batka

 

 

 

 

 

 

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