Immersive Theatre: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

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Acclaimed pop-opera transforms the typical Broadway experience

Josh Groban and Denée Benton star in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 (Photos by Chad Batka)

There is no such thing as a bad seat at the Imperial Theatre for a performance of the Tony-nominated Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, starring Josh Groban and Denée Benton. Theatregoers are in for a treat. The stage extends like runways into the audience and there are seats for the audience on the stage. The action takes place all around, giving each audience member a 360 degree view of Natasha, Pierre and all of their pals.

The Great Comet is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vol. 2, Book 5), bringing to life in vivid detail the lives of early 19th century aristocratic families. The “Prologue” helpfully introduces the many characters involved—“It’s a complicated Russian novel, everyone’s got nine different names, so look it up in your program.”

The Great Comet Photo by Chad Batka
Hélène (Amber Grey) tells Natasha (Denée Benton) she is charming and wins her over easily.

The Playbill contains a handy family tree, so viewers can keep track of Natasha (she’s young), Anatole (he’s hot), Pierre (he’s rich and unhappily married) and their many cohorts.

Adding to the interactive element, audience members are handed delicious potato dumplings before the show, egg-shaped noisemakers during a second act number and other props in order to fully participate in the play.

The story that unfolds concerns Natasha, a beautiful ingénue, betrothed to Andrey, who is absent while off fighting in a war. While she visits Moscow and tries to get to know Andrey’s father and sister, she is introduced to the confident, handsome, women- and wine-loving Anatole by his troublemaking sister Hélène.

Meanwhile, Pierre, Hélène’s husband in name only, is going through a depression. He finds himself drinking too much and pondering his existence. Multiplatinum recording artist Josh Groban captures Pierre’s despair. The audience faithfully follows along on his journey towards renewal.

The Great Comet Photo by Chad Batka
The audience accompanies Pierre (Josh Groban) on his existential crisis right on stage with him.

Operatic in nature, The Great Comet blends Russian folk music with classical sounds and splashes of indie rock, soul and electronic dance music. The orchestra is strewn throughout the theatre and Groban even graces us with some notes on the accordion and piano.

Costumes also characterize a spectrum of time periods. An anachronistic Mickey Mouse jacket on an ensemble member somehow fits in with the authentic period garb of the main cast. It is a veritable visual feast where steam punk meets punk rock meets gypsy style meets traditional Russian motifs.

Groban’s voice is simply amazing. The rich, powerful tones he delivers fill the entire theatre. A voice like his is the reason we flock to Broadway shows.

The entire cast displays enormous talent—from Amber Gray’s seductive gravely vocalizations (“Charmante, charmante, charming”) to Grace McLean’s authoritative exclamations (“In my house! In my house!”)—every character gets a moment to shine.

With avant-garde stylings and innovative staging, The Great Comet fuses classical theatre with a modern edge. The show is nominated for 12 Tonys—the most of any show this season. Tune into the Tony Awards on CBS on June 11 to see how many it takes home.

Hamilton actor Okieriete Onaodowan replaces Josh Groban in the title role in July.

Experience The Great Comet for yourself at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th St., NYC. For tickets, visit www.greatcometbroadway.com or call Telecharge at 212-239-6200.

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