BWW Interview: GREAT COMET OF 1812's Brittain Ashford on Bringing the Show Uptown, Giving Sonya Life Onstage & More!
NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 is now playing in the Broadway Theater District, on West 45th Street between Times Square and 8th Avenue, for a limited run through Monday, December 30th. Since its first production at Ars Novain the fall of 2012, the show has become a sensation, meriting expansion this summer to a 199 seat pop-up supper club built specifically for the production in the Meatpacking District. After playing to packed houses since May, producers Howard & Janet Kagan brought Dave Malloy's acclaimed electropop opera and its opulent custom venue - Kazino - to the heart of the theater district.
Brittain Ashford, who plays Sonya in the production, recently chatted with BroadwayWorld about bringing the show to a new audience uptown. Check out the full interview below!
The musical is a small piece of a much longer and more complicated story... For those who haven't read 'War and Peace,' how would you describe how Sonya fits into the grand scheme of things?
Sonya of course is Natasha's cousin- she very much dotes on her cousin. I would say that until the second act when everything shifts, her role is to relieve Natasha of the anxiety she feels about waiting for Andrey. Personally, I don't think that their relationship is really solidified until the second act, when everything goes so horribly wrong.
Is there any of Sonya in you?
I think that a lot of people take on attributes of those more human characters in roles. Sonya is very human. Do I see myself in her? Maybe a little bit. Friends and family are very important to me, and if push came to shove I would totally defend their honor.
You have an amazing, haunting song in the second act called 'Sonya Alone.' What has it been like for you to get to stop the show with that every night and to get to sing all of this new material?
It's been really great- I've never really done theatre before, so coming into this was a very different experience from what I'm used to doing. Every now and then I'll sing someone else's music, but more often than not it's a one-time thing, or a recording gig. This so much more involved. It's been so cool to see the development of the piece, essentially from beginning to end. I did the first workshop of the show well over a year ago. The coolest part of being involved has been seeing it grow!
I heard that Dave Molloy wrote your songs with your voice in mind, is that true?
That is true! I was very surprised when he initially told me about the project, I sort of laughed. He invited me out for drinks, and I knew him very well- it wouldn't have been unusual for us to hang out or anything. He said "I have something that I want to talk to you about," and I was like "Uh oh." But he said, "I'm writing this new show that I would like you to do." Musical theatre was not something that I had done before but he was able to persuade me.
Did you read 'War and Peace' before going into all of this?
I started reading the section that the show is based on when we started doing it at Ars Nova. I by no means have read the entire thing. It's kind of fun how the novel unfolds, and people in the cast will talk about in the novel, and they say "Well So-and-so dies! They get what's coming to them!" or "That person ends up doing this!" It's like weird gossip for an alternate universe that we are still a part of. It's so weird to talk about your character in that sense where it doesn't come to light in the story that we are telling.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show or does it change from night to night?
There are certain characters and actors in the show that just slay me. They are SO good. There are so many magical and exciting moments. I love Phillipa [Soo]'s song in the first act. The moment that kills me is when I saw it first, because I'm not on stage when it happens. It's her following the moonlight, and the snow comes down on her. It's just perfect. Everything about that moment- Pippa's voice, Dave's song, the lighting, Rachel's direction. ... It all comes together for this perfect moment. That is one of my favorites.