Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is absolutely insane in the best way possible. Director Rachel Chavkin manages to take a Broadway show and make it something unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and yet, it’s so theatrical that of course it’s a Broadway show. Dave Malloy’s concept turns a sliver of War and Peace into a raucous party, complete with catchy songs and a great score.
One of Chavkin’s greatest gifts is her ability to cast diverse actors in a way that feels completely organic. There are certain show that appear to throw in a person of color for the sake of “adding diversity.” But Chavkin manages to put people of color front and center in the same way that they appear in the world, and while that shouldn’t be an earth-shattering thing, it somehow is. In an industry that is all about casting big names and turning a profit, it’s heartwarming that Chavkin demands a show to have a rainbow cast. Denée Benton is so sweet and wonderful as Natasha, and I don’t know if other directors would choose a black actress to portray a 19th century Russian aristocrat. I cannot wait until Okieriete Onaodowan joins the cast in July so the show has two black “Russian” leads. Dreams do come true!
I’ve often marveled at actor-musicians, and their ability to play while in character. But this show takes that to a whole new level! With violins and accordions, these actors play, sing, and run around the Imperial Theater like it’s playtime. Lucas Steele is great as Anatole, and then he whips out his violin and I was even more in awe of his performance. I was thrilled to see Amber Gray back on stage after discovering her in Hadestown, and she once again is brilliant! And of course, much focus is put on Josh Groban, making his Broadway debut as Pierre. For being in the title, Pierre doesn’t seem like a leading role to me, but Groban is great nonetheless.
The show is a spectacle and I doubt we’ll ever see something quite like it. All of the design elements are superb. Mimi Lien completely transforms a normal Broadway house into a space that is a weaving maze, bringing the actors up close and personal no matter where you’re sitting. The lighting design by Bradley King is great, particularly the titular comet, and I wanted to steal each and every chandelier for my house.
The show is definitely worth multiple viewings, and I’m sure I can see it a dozen times and still find something new every time. As a piece of theater, as a piece of art, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is a singular sensation.