Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
|Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812|
The Great Comet
|Basis||War and Peace|
by Leo Tolstoy
|Awards||Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater|
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is a sung-through musical adaptation of a 70-page segment from Leo Tolstoy's 1869 novel War and Peace written by composer/lyricist Dave Malloy and directed by Rachel Chavkin. It is based on Volume 2, Part 5 of Tolstoy's novel, focusing on Natasha's affair with Anatole and Pierre's search for meaning in his life.
The musical originally ran at the Ars Nova in 2012, followed by 2013 stagings in both the Meatpacking District and the Theater District of Manhattan, a 2014 Spanish-language staging in Quito, Ecuador, and a 2015 remounting at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Great Comet premiered on Broadway in November 2016 at the Imperial Theatre, and closed in September 2017.
The original Off-Broadway production of the show had Dave Malloy playing Pierre Bezukhov, the lead. Once the show was taken to Broadway, Josh Groban made his Broadway debut as he took over the role of Pierre.
The musical received positive reviews, particularly for Phillipa Soo, Denée Benton, and Josh Groban's leading performances, as well as for the production's score, direction, and scenic design. The show was nominated for 12 awards – the highest number of nominations in the season – for the 2017 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical for Benton, Best Actor in a Musical for Groban, Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Lucas Steele, and Best Direction of a Musical for Chavkin. It won two awards: Best Scenic Design for Mimi Lien and Best Lighting Design in a Musical for Bradley King.
The story is set in Moscow, 1812, just before Napoleon's invasion of Russia and the burning of the city. The story begins by introducing the characters ("Prologue"), and then sets up the character Pierre, an old, sad, wealthy aristocrat, who is having an existential crisis, living a slothful life of wine, philosophy, and inaction ("Pierre"). He is best friends with Prince Andrey Bolkonsky (also sometimes spelt as Andrei), who has left to go to war. Andrey has recently become engaged to the young, beautiful countess Natasha Rostova. Natasha and her cousin Sonya arrive in Moscow to stay the winter with Natasha's godmother, Marya D., while Natasha waits for Andrey to return from the war. Marya D. is an old friend of Pierre's ("Moscow"). Marya D. advises Natasha that she must visit her future in-laws, the demented old Prince Bolkonsky and his pitiable spinster daughter Mary ("The Private and Intimate Life of the House"), to win their affection in advance of the marriage, which is critical to the status and fortune of the Rostov family. However, Natasha's visit with Mary and Bolkonsky ends in disaster ("Natasha & Bolkonskys"), as Mary finds Natasha vain, Natasha finds Mary cold, and Bolkonsky behaves bizarrely. Natasha leaves their home missing Andrey more than ever ("No One Else").
The next night Natasha is introduced to decadent Moscow society and watches an amazing performance with Marya and Sonya ("The Opera"). There she meets Prince Anatole Kuragin, a young and handsome man and Pierre's brother-in-law, who turns out to be a notorious rogue. He comes to visit Natasha's box and leaves her with feelings she has never experienced before ("Natasha & Anatole").
Anatole comes home after the opera and he, his friend Dolokhov, and Pierre go out drinking; they are met by Pierre's unpleasant wife, Hélène, who taunts Pierre and flirts with Dolokhov. Anatole plots with Dolokhov and Hélène to have the young woman he just met, although he is already married. Dolokhov taunts Pierre, toasting to the wives of society and their lovers. Pierre finds his wife's familiarity with Dolokhov offensive and drunkenly challenges him to a duel, accidentally wounding Dolokhov. When it is Dolokhov's turn to shoot, Pierre stands openly in front of the bullet, but Dolokhov miraculously misses him ("The Duel"). Before they all leave, Anatole asks Hélène to convince Natasha to come to the costume ball that she is hosting that evening. She agrees and they leave Pierre. Alone, Pierre reflects on his near-death experience and realizes that despite wasting his life, he wishes to live ("Dust and Ashes").
Natasha and her family go to church the next morning. She is confused about her interaction with Anatole the night before, and questions if she is spoiled of Andrey's love ("Sunday Morning"). Hélène does as her brother asks and visits Natasha. She invites her to the ball that she is hosting that night, and eventually Natasha agrees to come ("Charming"). That night, Natasha meets Anatole, and they dance. Anatole tells Natasha that he loves her, but she protests, reminding Anatole that she is betrothed to Andrey. Ignoring this, Anatole kisses her, leading her to fall in love with him in return ("The Ball").
Anatole and Natasha make plans to elope – she still does not know that he is married – and Natasha tearfully breaks off her engagement with Andrey, while Pierre writes to him of his belief that Napoleon is the biblical Beast of Revelation, and that he is destined to be Napoleon's assassin ("Letters"). Sonya finds out about Natasha's plan to elope and realizes it will mean Natasha's ruin ("Sonya & Natasha"); Sonya determines to save Natasha from herself even if it means she will lose her closest friend ("Sonya Alone"). That evening Anatole and Dolokhov plan for the elopement ("Preparations"), and Dolokhov tries to change Anatole's mind with no success. Balaga, their trusted troika driver ("Balaga"), soon arrives to take them to Natasha's house and a wild party ensues as Anatole bids farewell to his friends. However, they are thwarted at the last moment by Marya D. ("The Abduction"). Marya D. scolds Natasha but then tries to comfort her with Sonya's help. Natasha screams at them, breaks down and waits all night for Anatole to come back for her ("In My House").
Marya D. calls on Pierre in the middle of the night ("A Call to Pierre"), begging him to handle the crisis, and Pierre finally learns that the object of Anatole's conquest is Natasha. Marya D. finds out that Anatole is married and tells a grief-stricken Natasha. Pierre, outraged, searches for Anatole ("Find Anatole"). When Pierre finds Anatole, he comes close to attacking him in rage, but instead gives him money and orders him to leave Moscow (”Pierre & Anatole”). Natasha poisons herself with arsenic ("Natasha Very Ill") but lives. The next day Andrey returns. Pierre explains the scandal to him and asks him to be compassionate, but Andrey is unable to forgive Natasha and will not ask for her hand in marriage again ("Pierre & Andrey"). Finally, Pierre visits Natasha ("Pierre & Natasha") and he comforts the distraught girl, giving her hope. After their meeting, Pierre experiences a moment of enlightenment himself while seeing the Great Comet of 1812 in the night sky (“The Great Comet of 1812”).
Malloy's original score (orchestrated by the composer) merges Russian folk and classical music with indie rock and EDM influences. The piece is described by the composer as an "electropop opera" and is through-composed, with just one line of spoken dialogue, in Pierre and Natasha's only scene together. On stage, nearly all of the actors play musical instruments augmenting the show's orchestra. Groban plays the accordion briefly, and plays large sections of the score on the orchestra's piano.
Note: An aria for Natasha, "Natasha Lost", was cut during the Broadway production but is included on the original cast recording between number 8 ("Natasha & Anatole") and number 9 ("The Duel"). "Dust and Ashes" was added for the Broadway production.
The musical premiered on October 16, 2012, at Ars Nova. Directed by Rachel Chavkin the show was staged as an immersive production, with action happening around and among the audience. The set designed by Mimi Lien and lights by Bradley King transformed Ars Nova into a Russian supper club. The creative team was completed by Paloma Young as costume designer, Matt Hubbs as sound designer, and Dave Malloy as musical director. The cast included Malloy as Pierre, Phillipa Soo as Natasha, Lucas Steele as Anatole, Amber Gray as Hélène, Brittain Ashford as Sonya, Nick Choksi as Dolokhov, Gelsey Bell as Mary, Blake DeLong as Andrey/Prince Bolkonsky, Amelia Workman as Marya D. and Paul Pinto (who also served as associate music director) as Balaga. The show was the first production of Ars Nova to ever transfer to Broadway.
On May 16, 2013, the show opened in the Meatpacking District at Kazino, a temporary structure designed as an opulent Russian club, where the immersive production was staged, again by the same creative team. The cast reprised their roles, except Choksi, now replaced by Ian Lassiter, and Workman, replaced by Grace McLean. David Abeles took over the role of Pierre on July 9, 2013. The show closed on September 1, 2013.
The show opened for a 14-week limited engagement in September 2013 at the Kazino and moved to the Theater District, with the final cast of the previous production: Choksi reprised the role of Dolokhov, Bell was replaced by Shaina Taub, and Pinto was replaced by Ashkon Davaran. On December 10, 2013, the two-disc cast recording was released. The show was extended and ran until March 2, 2014.
American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.)
The team behind the original production remounted the show at the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with performances beginning December 1, 2015 to January 2016. Now expanded to a proscenium stage, the set put audience onstage, with unique seating options, with banquette and dining tables added. Scott Stangland took over the role of Pierre, Denée Benton starred as Natasha, Lilli Cooper as Hélène, Nicholas Belton as Andrey/Prince Bolkonsky and the rest of the cast reprised their roles.
The Broadway production at the Imperial Theatre began previews on October 18, 2016 and opened on November 14, 2016, starring Josh Groban as Pierre and Denée Benton as Natasha, both making their Broadway debuts, with choreography by Sam Pinkleton, sets by Mimi Lien, costumes by Paloma Young, lights by Bradley King, sound by Nicholas Pope and music direction by Or Matias. With sets similar to the A.R.T. remounting, the production took the proscenium stage, but removed almost 200 seats from the audience to accommodate the design. Again, the options of stage seats, in banquettes or dining tables, were available. The Broadway production cost about $14 million to stage, most of which was not recouped.
The Broadway production played its final performance on September 3, 2017, having played 32 previews and 336 performances.
The show had its international premiere in Quito, Ecuador in September 2014, in a Spanish-language production produced by Teatro Parapluie.
A Brazilian production opened in August 2018, in Portuguese, with Bruna Guerin as Natasha, André Frateschi as Pierre and Gabriel Leone as Anatole. The production won the Prêmio Reverência popular vote Award for "Best Musical."
A Japanese production, helmed by the entertainment company Toho, opened at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre on January 5, 2019 and ran through January 27, 2019. It starred Nogizaka46's Erika Ikuta as Natasha and Yoshio Inoue as Pierre.
The Korean production will be held starting September 2020.
Variety also reports that productions in London and Korea are currently under discussion, with additional interest in China and the Philippines.
|"Natasha is young": A nineteen-year-old ingenue who is innocent, doe-eyed, and profoundly, lethally romantic. She is betrothed to Andrey and loves him dearly. She goes to Moscow under the care of her godmother, Marya D., with her cousin and best friend Sonya. During her first three days there, she meets Anatole Kuragin and mistakenly falls in love with him.|
|"Dear, bewildered, and awkward Pierre... rich, unhappily married Pierre": The illegitimate son of a Russian aristocratic family. Socially awkward with a melancholy streak, he is an outsider in society despite his wealth. He is a good friend of Andrey and keeps an eye on Natasha for him while he is away at war.|
B2–C#5 (E5 in falsetto)
|"Anatole is hot": An aristocratic, seductive hedonist, who "spends his money on women and wine," and sees no needs except his own. He is the brother of Hélène and friend of Dolokhov. His character is described as an otherworldly, David Bowie type. During the course of the show, he meets Natasha at the Opera and immediately wants her, despite her engagement and him being married to a woman in Poland already.|
|"Sonya is good: Natasha's cousin and closest friend." She is fiercely dedicated to her cousin and will do anything and everything to keep her safe.|
|Hélène Bezukhova||Alto or Mezzo
|"Hélène is a slut": Anatole's sister who married Pierre for money. She is highly sexualized and dedicated to her brother.|
|Marya Dmitriyevna||Alto or Mezzo
|"Marya is old-school, a grand dame of Moscow": She is Natasha's godmother, an old friend of Pierre, and a very strict, but kind woman. Natasha and Sonya go to live with her during their time in the city of Moscow. She loves Natasha very much and tries to help and protect her, especially when Natasha makes the mistake of falling for Anatole and breaks off her engagement with Andrey.|
|"Dolokhov is fierce, but not too important": An extremely talented marksman. He is Anatole's closest friend and participates in his pleasure-loving lifestyle. He is having an affair with Hélène.|
|"Andrey isn't here": He is fighting in the war for much of the show, and is betrothed to Natasha. He is serious and bitter.|
|Old Prince Bolkonsky||Bass-Baritone
|"Old Prince Bolkonsky is crazy" and suffering from many age-related ailments. He is taken care of by his daughter Mary, but he torments her regardless.|
|"Mary is plain": the daughter of Bolkonsky and Andrey's sister. She lives at home with her father as his caretaker, where she is tormented and abused by him. She is confined to the home and has no friends.|
|"Balaga's just for fun": He's a famous troika driver, and assists Anatole in his plot for eloping with Natasha. He is wild and mystical.|
(Lines in quotations are lyrics from the opening song, "Prologue," which introduces the characters)
Original principal casts
Ars Nova (2012)
Kazino Meatpacking District (2013)
Kazino Times Square (2013)
|American Repertory Theater
Imperial Theatre (2016)
|Natasha Rostova||Phillipa Soo||Denée Benton|
|Pierre Bezukhov||Dave Malloy||David Abeles||Scott Stangland||Josh Groban|
|Anatole Kuragin||Lucas Steele|
|Sonya Rostova||Brittain Ashford|
|Hélène Bezukhova||Amber Gray||Lilli Cooper||Amber Gray|
|Marya Dmitriyevna||Amelia Workman||Grace McLean|
|Fedya Dolokhov||Nick Choksi||Ian Lassiter||Nick Choksi|
|Andrey Bolkonsky/Old Prince Bolkonsky||Blake DeLong||Nicholas Belton|
|Mary Bolkonskaya||Gelsey Bell||Shaina Taub||Gelsey Bell|
|Balaga||Paul Pinto||Ashkon Davaran||Paul Pinto|
Notable cast replacements
- Malloy temporarily replaced Josh Groban as Pierre on Broadway for several performances from May 4 to July 9, 2017. He returned to the role for the show's final 2 weeks, August 23 to September 3.
- Singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson temporarily replaced Brittain Ashford as Sonya on July 3 through August 13, 2017. Ashford returned to the role on August 15.
- Okieriete Onaodowan, best known for originating the roles of James Madison and Hercules Mulligan in the 2015 musical Hamilton, took over the role of Pierre from Dave Malloy on July 11 through August 13, 2017.
The piece was very well received by the New York press. Charles Isherwood in The New York Times called it "a vibrant, transporting new musical," and both Times theater critics included the show on their Best of the Year lists. 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." Time Out New York gave the piece five out of five stars, and also included it on both critics' 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.”
Okieriete Onaodowan assumed the role of Pierre on July 11; he was originally supposed to begin performances on July 3, but needed more time to prepare. Onaodowan's performance was well received, but as the show began to struggle financially, the producers began looking to bring in a "star" to boost ticket sales. On July 26, 2017, a day before the official announcement, the website Broadway Black broke the news that TV and Broadway actor Mandy Patinkin was set to replace Okieriete Onaodowan as Pierre for three weeks. A number of fans and actors were angered by this casting decision, as Patinkin was a white actor whose casting would have forced Onaodowan, a black actor, to cut his run shorter; a Twitter campaign was begun by actor/activist Rafael Casal, a friend of Onaodowan who coined the hashtag #makeroomforoak. The controversy led to Patinkin withdrawing from the show two days later. The show closed a little over a month later, citing this controversy and the declining ticket sales.
Awards and nominations
Original Off-Broadway production
|2013||Obie Award||Special Citations||Dave Malloy & Rachel Chavkin||Won|
|Drama League Award||Distinguished Performance Award||Phillipa Soo||Nominated|
|Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Musical||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Music||Dave Malloy||Nominated|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||Rachel Chavkin||Nominated|
|Outstanding Costume Design||Paloma Young||Nominated|
|Off-Broadway Alliance Awards||Best New Musical||Won|
|2014||Lucille Lortel Award||Outstanding Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Director||Rachel Chavkin||Nominated|
|Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical||Phillipa Soo||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical||Lucas Steele||Won|
|Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical||Brittain Ashford||Nominated|
|Outstanding Scenic Design||Mimi Lien||Won|
|Outstanding Costume Design||Paloma Young||Won|
|Outstanding Lighting Design||Bradley King||Nominated|
|Outstanding Sound Design||Matt Hubbs||Nominated|
Original Cambridge production
|2016||Elliot Norton Award||Outstanding Musical Production by a Large Theatre||Won|
|Outstanding Design, Large Theatre||Won|
|Outstanding Director, Large Theatre||Rachel Chavkin||Won|
|Outstanding Performance by an Actor||Lucas Steele||Nominated|
|Outstanding Performance by an Actress||Denée Benton||Nominated|
|Outstanding Ensemble, Large Theatre||Nominated|
Original Broadway production
|2017||Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Book of a Musical||Dave Malloy||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||Nominated|
|Best Actor in a Musical||Josh Groban||Nominated|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Denée Benton||Nominated|
|Best Featured Actor in a Musical||Lucas Steele||Nominated|
|Best Scenic Design in a Musical||Mimi Lien||Won|
|Best Costume Design in a Musical||Paloma Young||Nominated|
|Best Lighting Design in a Musical||Bradley King||Won|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Rachel Chavkin||Nominated|
|Best Choreography||Sam Pinkleton||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Awards||Outstanding Director of a Musical||Rachel Chavkin||Won|
|Outstanding Set Design||Mimi Lien||Won|
|Outstanding Lighting Design for a Musical||Bradley King||Won|
|Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical||Nicholas Pope||Won|
|Drama League Award||Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Musical||Nominated|
|Distinguished Performance Award||Denée Benton||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding Set Design||Mimi Lien||Won|
|Outstanding Lighting Design||Bradley King||Won|
|Outstanding Sound Design||Nicholas Pope||Nominated|
|Theatre World Award||Denée Benton||Honoree|
|Dave Malloy||Special Award Honoree|
|Chita Rivera Awards for Dance and Choreography||Outstanding Ensemble in a Broadway Show||Won|
|ACCA Award for Outstanding Broadway Chorus||Sumayya Ali, Courtney Bassett, Josh Canfield, Kennedy Caughell, Ken Clark, Erica Dorfler, Lulu Fall, Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Nick Gaswirth, Alex Gibson, Billy Joe Kiessling, Mary Spencer Knapp, Blaine Alden Krauss, Reed Luplau, Brandt Martinez, Andrew Mayer, Mary Page Nance, Shoba Narayan, Azudi Onyejekwe, Pearl Rhein, Celia Mei Rubin, Heath Saunders, Ani Taj, Cathryn Wake, Katrina Yaukey, and Lauren Zakrin||Recipient|
|Extraordinary Excellence in Diversity||Recipient|
|Smithsonian Ingenuity Award||History Award||Dave Malloy & Rachel Chavkin||Won|
The original Broadway cast recording was released on May 19, 2017 on Reprise Records. It went on to chart at number 87 on the Billboard 200 chart, number 26 on the Top Album Sales chart, and number 23 on the Digital Albums chart.
On November 22, 2016 the book Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway was released. The book, edited and compiled by Steven Suskin, includes interviews with many of the original cast members, as well as the annotated script and photos of both the Kazino and Broadway casts. The book also includes a CD with five songs from the show: three from the original cast recording, and two featuring Josh Groban and a 25 piece orchestra.
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- Adam Hetrick. Patinkin stated over a series of tweets: "My understanding of the show’s request that I step into the show is not as it has been portrayed... and I would never accept a role knowing it would harm another actor. I hear what members of the community have said and I agree with them. I am a huge fan of Oak... and I will, therefore, not be appearing in the show.” , Playbill, July 28, 2017
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