BWW CD Reviews: NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 (Original Cast Recording) is Astonishingly Complex
Nestled in the heart of New York City's Theater District, a slice of Russian literature has been making waves. At an opulent Supper Club housed within custom pop-up tent called Kazino, located at 259 West 45th Street, Dave Malloy's NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, a musical adaptation of Volume 2, Part 5 of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, is enjoying a well-received run, which is set to close on January 19, 2014. The musical premiered at Ars Nova in 2012, and has been consistently praised for its catchy original score, which enthusiastically blends both Russian folk and classical music with indie rock and electronic dance music. Now, this unforgettable score is preserved on Ghostlight Record's NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 (Original Cast Recording).
The witty opening lyrics of the musical instantly capture the attention of anyone who has ever attempted or even been successful at reading Russian literature. The cast exclaims "And this is all in your program/You are at the opera/Gonna have to study up a little bit/If you wanna keep up with the plot/Cuz it's a complicated Russian novel/Everyone's got nine different names/So look it up in your program/We'd appreciate it, thanks a lot." Moving from the Prologue and into the plot about Natasha's affair with Anatole and Pierre's growing despair, Dave Malloy writes lyrics that are emotionally powerful and sumptuously worded, ensuring that the audience is affected by the words he has chosen. His piece has been described as an electropop opera, and he definitely brings an operatic poetry sensibility to his stirring lyrics.
Likewise, Dave Malloy's scoring for the musical is richly thematic and influenced by the masters of opera. He deftly builds gorgeous and sweeping arias, duets, trios, and quartets into his score. Musically he splendidly melds the aesthetics of the high art celebrated in 1812 and modern art aesthetics to create a masterfully anachronistic piece that successfully lives in both 1812 Moscow and the globalized world of 2012-3 without sounding inappropriate or implausible. Much like Michael Friedman's score for BLOODY BLOODY Andrew Jackson, Dave Malloy pristinely melds his two distinctive and different worlds to create a uniformed soundscape that gloriously works to create a dazzling piece of art. This is especially true in the dissonantly disturbing moments that are reminiscent of Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith's score for REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA. For example during "The Opera" human noise is musicalized with chords and unnerving syncopation while a foreboding and at times scratchy cello urgently and turbulently underscores the awkward vocalizations. There is often so much going on in the tracks that listeners can't help but get completely lost in the ensnaring music. Dave Malloy's magnificently complex musicality grabs your attention and simply won't let you go.
Vocally, the entire cast rises to the challenge of the score and brings resonating beauty and power to it. At times they sing with romantic tenderness, at others times they are sultry, and they also move through growling and intimidating anger. There is not a single weak link in the cast, and across the two hour recording, each of the 19 cast members sings with calculated, rehearsed precision to pull off some of the most intriguing, intricate, and astounding vocalizations I have ever heard on a cast album or even written into a musical. There is no denying that Brittain Ashford, Gelsey Bell, Nick Choksi, Blake DeLong, Amber Gray, Dave Malloy, Grace McLean, Paul Pinto, Phillipa Soo, Lucas Steele, David Abeles, Catherine Brookman, Ken Clark, Ashkon Davaran, Luke Holloway, Azudi Onyejekwe, Shaina Taub, Mariand Torres, and Lauren Zakrin are all true singers. Whether signing arias and solos that would be beloved in mainstream musicals or perfectly harmonizing on jaw-clinching and grating minor chords, these performers are flawless on the disc.