Let me start by saying I have never read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” so I went into “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” completely blind. On one hand that was quite interesting as it meant I really had to obey the cast’s instruction to “look at the synopsis and family tree” at the start of the show (yes, that actually does happen). On the other hand it meant I spent valuable minutes trying to memorise details while the show was already happening all around me.
And when I say all around me I mean it. This show is probably the closest I have ever been to watching a proper immersive musical – not site specific, not slightly interactive but truly immersive. I watched the show from on stage seats and the one thing I can tell you here and now is: On stage seats are the way to experience this piece of theatre. However, I will not spoil things by explaining why so you will just have to take my word for it.
The show tells a historic love story among Russian aristocrats but it does so through modern eyes using various styles of music (including electronic beats) and some rather brash language. That alone is an interesting concept but what really makes this show are the incredible staging and the energetic and intense performances by the cast.
Josh Groban shines as Pierre – a role that is surprisingly small considering the show is heavily sold on his name. As expected the big ballad of the evening belongs to Josh and he completely owns the stage in that moment. There is no denying his voice is stunningly beautiful. What I was not sure about before the show were his acting abilities. But I should not have worried because despite being a small role Josh Groban’s Pierre gives life to this production. He also plays the accordion and the piano several times during the show taking over for the musical director.
Then there is Denée Benton making her Broadway debut as Natasha. She is charming and likable – a ray of light whenever she appears on stage. Natasha – despite being engaged – falls head over heels for the womanizer Anatole, played wonderfully by Lucas Steele. Anatole’s sister Helene (Amber Gray) is married to Pierre but could not care less for her husband – cue Pierre spending a lot of time bemoaning his unhappy life. Then there is Anatole’s friend Dolokhov (Nick Choksi) who causes trouble between Pierre and Helene.
I have probably have lost you story wise by now. Trust me, I left the theatre without being one hundred percent sure I had understood what I had just seen. There are too many characters and the fact some cast members appear in different roles does not make following the story line any easier. But that does not matter because what this show has given me is a journey into the world of Pierre and Natasha through music, staging and a breathtakingly beautiful set. This is not your traditional musical. It is more than that. It is a theatrical experience that will draw you in and refuse to let you go.
“Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is one of the must see shows of this Broadway season. And with Okieriete Onaodowan (Hamilton OBC) taking over from Josh Groban from July 3rd there is reason enough for at least two visits if you have the chance.
“Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is running at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway. For more info and to book tickets visit http://greatcometbroadway.com