In May, I entered a Russian samovar or the interior of the Imperial Theatre on West 45th Street. Onstage and everywhere, the Broadway production of Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 has transformed the theatre into Napoleonic era Russia. While I have nothing against Josh Groban, I chose to see Dave Malloy (who returns to the role next week) as Pierre while Mr. Groban took a well-deserved vacation. It was a fabulous and exhilaratingly different evening.
Scenic Designer Mimi Lien redesigned the entire interior of the theatre to create the Russia of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” Paloma Young’s costumes fit each character like a bespoke glove, accompanied by fitting hair and wig design by Leah J. Loukas. With the complementary arts of lighting (Bradley King) and sound design (Nicholas Pope), this production and the fabulous characters and atmosphere and social politics actually inspired me to once against attempt to read that hefty Tome. Sam Pinkleton’s choreography took flight all around us and director Rachel Chavkin brought it all together in a wondrous whole.
|a highly unusual seating chart|
Dave Malloy, the composer, lyricist, book writer and orchestrator of the piece and originator of the role Pierre Off Broadway, has a gruff, bearlike demeanor and voice, and his Pierre was a grounding force in that extraordinary cast. They are an athletic bunch, from leads to chorus and ensemble, moving among and around the audience at all levels. This production has no second or third wall let alone a fourth.
After Malloy as Pierre (no, he hasn’t got Groban’s pipes, but his solid presence lends Pierre the gravitas he deserves) my favorite performer and his inseparable character was Lucas Steele as the roué and cad, Anatole, in a flamboyant performance as that despicable creature we adored. Denée Benton's Natasha was a delightfully lusty and foolish ingenue with the voice of an angel, whose best friend Sonya was well played by Brittain Ashford. Amber Gray is marvelous as Pierre’s wicked wife Hélène. There is no weak link in this astounding cast.
|Denee Benton as Natasha|
And the music. It soars it sings it dances it bounces it pines it weeps. Mr. Malloy is sensitive to every nuance, multi-talented, capturing the flavor and rhythms of Russia in a very American musical.
I don’t generally care for environmental theatre after a day of working —I do not want to work as audience as well. But the ensemble of Natasha Pierre…. are psychic — they knew instinctively which audience members just want to sit and enjoy the experience and which want to take part. They left me alone but sat on the step next to me.
I cannot say too much about this production of this wonderful musical play. I absolutely loved it and recommend it to all and sundry. Go. Bring your in-laws. Soon. It closes September 3, 2017!
~ Molly Matera, signing off to listen to the score in peace….not war