Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

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Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Great Comet of 1812 Cover.jpg
CD cover
Music Dave Malloy
Lyrics Dave Malloy
Basis War and Peace (novel) by Leo Tolstoy
Productions 2012 Ars Nova
2013 Kazino NYC
Awards 2013 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater
2013 Obie Award
Best New Musical, 2013 Off-Broadway Alliance Awards

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is a musical adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, described as an electropop opera, with music and libretto by Dave Malloy and directed by Rachel Chavkin. It is based on Volume 2, Part 5 of War and Peace, focusing on Natasha's affair with Anatole, and Pierre's growing despair.[1]

Synopsis[edit]

Act 1[edit]

Moscow, 1812, just before Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the burning of the city. As the story begins (“Prologue”) we meet “Pierre,” a wealthy aristocrat having an existential crisis, living a slothful life of wine, philosophy and inaction. Meanwhile, the young, newly engaged Natasha Rostova and her cousin Sonya arrive in “Moscow” to stay the winter with Marya D, Natasha’s godmother, while Natasha waits for her fiancé, Andrey, to return from the war. Marya D tells Natasha that she must visit her future in-laws, a demented, miserly old prince and his spinster daughter (“The Private and Intimate Life of the House”), to win their affection and secure the marriage, which is critical to the Rostovs’ status and fortune. However, Natasha’s visit ends in disaster (“Natasha & Bolkonskys”) and she leaves missing Andrey more than ever (“No One Else”).

The next night Natasha is introduced to decadent Moscow society at “The Opera”; there she meets Anatole, a young officer and notorious rogue (“Natasha & Anatole”); after their interaction Natasha feels confused, and tries to remember her love for Andrey (“Natasha Lost”). Anatole, his friend Dolokhov and Pierre go out drinking; they are met by Hélène, Pierre’s wife and Anatole’s sister, who taunts Pierre. Pierre finds his wife’s familiarity with Dolokhov offensive and challenges him to a duel, almost getting himself killed (“The Duel”). Afterward, Anatole declares his intention to have Natasha, although he is himself already married. He enlists Hélène to help him (“Sunday Morning”/“Charming”); she invites Natasha to “The Ball,” where Anatole seduces Natasha.

Act 2[edit]

They make plans to elope, and Natasha breaks off her engagement with Andrey (“Letters”). Sonya finds out about the plan and realizes it will mean Natasha’s ruin (“Sonya & Natasha”); she determines to stop her at any cost (“Sonya Alone”). That evening Anatole and Dolokhov plan for the elopement (“Preparations”) and call on their trusted troika driver, “Balaga,” to take them to Natasha’s house. However, “The Abduction” is thwarted at the last moment by Marya D.

After scolding a grief-stricken Natasha (“In My House”), Marya D sends out “A Call to Pierre,” asking him to help handle the crisis. Pierre kicks Anatole out of Moscow (“Find Anatole”/”Pierre & Anatole”); Natasha poisons herself (“Natasha Very Ill”). Andrey returns. Pierre explains the scandal to him and asks him to be compassionate, but Andrey is unable to forgive (“Pierre & Andrey”). Finally, Pierre visits Natasha (“Pierre & Natasha”). After their meeting, Pierre experiences a moment of enlightenment while seeing “The Great Comet of 1812” in the night sky.[2]

Musical numbers[edit]

Music[edit]

Malloy's original score merges Russian folk and classical music with indie rock and EDM influences. The piece is through-composed, with exactly one line of spoken dialogue, in Pierre and Natasha's only scene together.[3]

The libretto features many sections of word-for-word Tolstoy, taken from Aylmer and Louise Maude’s 1922 translation.[4]

Productions[edit]

The piece premiered in 2012 at Ars Nova. In May 2013, the show transferred to a custom pop-up venue Kazino, initially located in the Meatpacking District. In September 2013, the show and Kazino moved to the Theater District. The production, directed by Rachel Chavkin, was staged immersively in a Russian style dinner club, with the action happening all around the audience. The original Off-Broadway cast consisted of Phillipa Soo as Natasha, Lucas Steele as Anatole, Dave Malloy as Pierre, Brittain Ashford as Sonya, Amber Gray as Helene, Grace McLean as Marya D., Gelsey Bell as Princess Mary, Nick Choksi as Dolokhov, Blake DeLong as Bolkonsky/Andrey and Paul Pinto as Balaga.

Critical response[edit]

The piece was well received by the New York press; Charles Isherwood in the New York Times called it “a vibrant, transporting new musical," and both Times critics included the show on their Best of the Year lists.[5] The Times' classical critic, Anthony Tommasini, called it "a breathless, roughish and ravishing quasi-opera. This is a pastiche score of a cavalier sort. Mr. Malloy lifts styles with such abandon, making willful shifts — from punk riffs to agitated Broadway ballads, mock-pompous recitative to gritty Russian folk songs or drinking choruses with klezmer clarinets — that you lose track of what is being appropriated and really don’t care."[6] Time Out New York gave the piece five out of five stars, and also included it on both critic's Best of lists, stating "this is theater like no other in New York. It grounds you and transports you at once, and leaves you beaming with pleasure.” [7]

Awards[edit]

The work received the 2013 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater, a 2013 Obie Award, and Best New Musical at the 2013 Off-Broadway Alliance Awards, and was nominated for five Drama Desk Awards, two Drama League Awards and a record breaking eleven Lucille Lortel Awards, winning three (Lucas Steele, Outstanding Featured Actor; Mimi Lien, Outstanding Set Design; Paloma Young, Outstanding Costume Design).[8]

Recordings[edit]

In 2013 Ghostlight Records released a two-disc original cast album of the entire score.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Vincentelli, Elisabeth (October 17, 2012). "Over the Moon For Comet". The NY Post (New York). 
  2. ^ Original Cast Recording [CD booklet]. New York: Sh-k-boom Records.
  3. ^ Clarke, David. "NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 (Original Cast Recording) is Astonishingly Complex", Broadway World, December 22, 2013, accessed April 7, 2014
  4. ^ Original Cast Recording [CD booklet]. New York: Sh-k-boom Records.
  5. ^ Isherwood, Charles. "Review", New York Times, May 16, 2013
  6. ^ Tommasini, Anthony. "Pastiche, Parody, Homage and Theft", New York Times, May 22, 2014
  7. ^ Feldman, Adam. "Review" Time Out New York, October 16, 2012
  8. ^ "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812". Composer's website (New York). 
  9. ^ Gioia, Michael (September 24, 2013). "Two Disc Cast Album of Natasha Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 Will Be Released in 2013". Playbill (New York).