One of Broadway’s newest musicals, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, written by Dave Malloy, is a modified rendition of Volume 2, Part 5 of the book War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and stars the unofficial Mormon celebrity Josh Groban (“You Raise Me Up”) as the main lead. The show opened in Fall 2016 to Broadway and has since gained popularity, critical acclaim, and several nominations nearing the 71st Tony Awards.
The style of this originally off-Broadway production is described as a bizarre “electropop opera,” with a wide array of both contemporary and traditional music and costumes. The dichotomy of historical and modern styles, as well as the break from traditional Broadway conventionalism in its performance, makes The Great Comet interactive, unique, and fun to watch.
The show’s theatre set and ambiance was impressive and crowd stimulating. It was like cocktail night on crack. The audience seats were set on both sides of the stage, in the middle of the stage, and on varying levels of the custom-made stage set. Because of the unique acts and numbers in the show, which were performed in the aisles, behind the orchestra seating, and on the balcony, it was often hard to differentiate between audience and cast members throughout the production!
The story begins with a musical number in a brisk attempt to introduce all the characters through an interconnected web, depicted similarly like a large family tree. The story is set in Moscow in 1812, prior to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the city’s destruction. Pierre (Groban) is introduced as a wealthy, good-hearted philosopher who “sadly ponders his existence.”
The play then introduces Natasha, a young, intriguing woman who arrives in Moscow with her cousin Sonya “where she is introduced to the ways of high society by her strict godmother Marya D.” As Natasha eagerly awaits the return of her fiancé Andrey from war, Marya D’s character because increasingly alarming and amusing. In an attempt to spare readers from an entirely spoiled ending, I will report that the play has several parallels to Shakespeare’s classic tales Twelfth Night, as well as Romeo and Juliet.
The deeper themes and meanings found in The Great Comet are most simply about self-discovery and the consequences involved in love and romance. As stated on the show’s official website, The Great Comet is a tale that “explores the great philosophical issues found in the search for meaning in life and a young woman’s romantic journey navigating passions and the rules of a society on the brink of war…”
My recommendation before buying tickets and attending The Great Comet would be to read an in-depth synopsis to really understand the characters and the plot. The show is fast-paced, multi-dimensional, and will leave you high and dry if you can’t keep up with the storyline. As the opening Prologue of the show frankly puts it, “Gonna have to study up a little bit if you wanna keep up with the plot.” This couldn’t be more crucial when preparing to see the play; I remember exchanging confused looks with two family friends during intermission and saying to each other, “What in the world is going on?” Though at times overwhelming and hard to grasp, the show was whimsical and entertaining, and provided an adequate mix of humor, drama, romance, historical fiction, and suspense.
Come June 11 at the Tony Awards, The Great Comet will no doubt draw much curiosity and further interest in the world of pop culture, as it currently holds twelve award nominations– the highest number of nominations this season. Best musical, best original score, best book of a musical, and best actor for Groban’s role as Pierre are a few of the anticipated outcomes for this up-and-coming breakout musical.