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Review Roundup: NATASHA, PIERRE, AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 Opens on Broadway

By: Nov. 14, 2016
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The new musical NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 is getting a starry Broadway opened tonight. Featuring the Broadway debuts of 24 cast and creative team members, including Josh Groban as 'Pierre' and Denée Benton as 'Natasha.' Created by Dave Malloy (Ghost Quartet, Preludes) and directed by Rachel Chavkin (Hadestown, Artistic Director of The TEAM), also making their Broadway debuts.

THE GREAT COMET is a theatrical experience like no other. Malloy's inspired adaptation of a 70-page slice of War and Peace puts audiences just inches away from Tolstoy's brash young lovers, as they light up Moscow in an epic tale of romance and passion.

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Under the astute eye of the director, Rachel Chavkin - one of the most gifted working today - the show remains a witty, inventive enchantment from rousing start to mournful finish. It is both the most innovative and the best new musical to open on Broadway since "Hamilton," and an inspiring sign that the commercial theater can continue to make room for the new. (Heresy alert: I prefer this show to that one.) Oh, and as for Mr. Groban, making his Broadway debut? He's not merely adequate; he's absolutely wonderful.

Matt Windman, amNY: It truly is an opera (with sung-through scenes and arias instead of traditional songs) version of a novel (with plenty of exposition, long conversation and quiet meditation). Since it premiered, I have always found the show to be extremely uneven, with a stop-and-start momentum that alternates between all-out liveliness and long episodes of slow tedium.

Jonathan Mandell, DC Theatre Scene: They've done it! Now installed in the wondrously transformed Imperial Theater on Broadway, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is extraordinary, the freshest, most inviting show on Broadway this season. Great Comet is awesome in its stagecraft, in its music, and in its performances. The large, exciting cast includes nearly two dozen who are making their Broadway debuts, including Denee Benton and Josh Groban as the titular characters.

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: "Great Comet" goes so much further than any of those aspirational predecessors, with Lien and her team sending part of the audience through a faux-Soviet backstage, building a series of walkways that can carry actors to the back of the balcony, installing ramps and catwalks throughout the orchestra and stuffing the stage with risers and banquettes that really do look like they were built with the rest of the theater. (Bradley King's lights seem to explode everywhere.) It's a seamless work of retrofit design that will, I think, carry historical import. Especially when combined with Malloy's quirky, unconventional and thoroughly beguiling suite of songs.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: What a world MacArthur "genius" Mimi Lien has created at the Imperial Theatre forNatasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812. The auditorium is voluptuously draped in scarlet velvet, with gold and brass accents. Brilliant knockoffs of the crystal-and-gold chandeliers at the Metropolitan Opera House rise and fall like Fourth of July fireworks as stairways curve gracefully into the orchestra, where some seats have been replaced by candle-lit bistro tables suitable for nestling overpriced cocktails. Portraits of Important People, including the Emperor Napoleon, are stacked on the walls like art at the Louvre (or Sardi's, take your pick).

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: When the dancers are leaping, the accordions wheezing, the lights flashing, the skirts swirling, and the vodka flowing, then Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 feels thrillingly unlike anything else on Broadway. A chunk of War and Peace, adapted to a sung-through indie-folk-electro score by composer Dave Malloy and directed with breathless, breathtaking verve by Rachel Chavkin, this musical is a cannonball aimed at any show that has accepted proscenium staging as an unyielding norm rather than a conscious choice.

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: Writer-composer Dave Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin have been honing Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 in various iterations since this exhilarating electro-pop opera debuted in 2012. It arrives on Broadway in superlative shape, its humor, emotional content and rip-roaring storytelling every bit as vibrant as its madly infectious score.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The musical opened Monday and stars the excellent Josh Groban, wearing a fat suit no less, and the sublime Denee Benton. It's best for people who want to say they experienced a cool immersive experience on Broadway, but one without any heart. It's pure showmanship with none of the emotional payoff.

Nicole Serratore, The Stage: The complicated narrative, with overwrought romantic plot, is kept in check by delightfully self-aware humour in the direction. Rousing ensemble numbers and delicate ballads sung by Groban and Benton are Malloy's strongest compositions, but many expository songs drag. Malloy's music often feels more coolly intellectual than gripping.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "The Great Comet" team has managed something unusual for Broadway, an intimate and affecting musical that can't really be said to have populist appeal. I imagine you'd experience it differently depending on your seat, and possibly every time you might attend. Bravo.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Natasha and Pierre is fun, even if-for quite long stretches-its infectious, enveloping noise and bustle appear to be the sum of its parts. The title is as busy as the two-and-a-half hour production, which focuses on the perils in love as experienced by Natasha (the wonderful Denée Benton, in her Broadway debut). Her true love, stolid soldier Andrey (Nicholas Belton) is away fighting-and instead swings across her radar the swaggering cad Anatole (Lucas Steele). So who will she choose?

Max McGuinness, The Financial Times: The score itself is more conventional than Lin-Manuel Miranda's eclectic masterpiece. But Malloy nonetheless makes clever use of Russian folk rhythms and raises the roof with an ebullient ode to the Rabelaisian coach driver Balaga early in Act Two. Further contributing to that cheerfully boisterous, cabaret-style atmosphere is the large number of seats placed on the stage itself in Mimi Lien's spare yet spatially ambitious design, which facilitates a constant flow of well-judged audience interaction.

Jesse Green, Vulture: I say all this with both awe and revulsion. There may in fact be value in distraction at this moment in our history, and rarely has distraction looked as lovely. The scenic designer Mimi Lien's nearly complete redesign of the aptly chosen Imperial Theatre begins as you enter its formerly pink-marble lobby, which is now a grubby underground bunker with fluorescent lights and post-Soviet punk-rock posters. By contrast the main auditorium has been reconfigured as a Czarist wonderland, with brass and candlelight and onstage seating and stairways and catwalks and acres of red velvet swathing everything in a cardiac glow. Continuing the thematic use of anachronism, Paloma Young's costumes combine Empire stylings and contemporary grunge to exquisite effect. The lighting by Bradley King is brilliant, colorful, alternating between tête-à-tête warmth and stadium-rock heroics. Even the expanded orchestrations, by Malloy, enhance the sensation of lushness and well-being; an oboe and a bass clarinet will do that. Russia under Alexander, even with Napoleon fast approaching, was a nice place to be rich.

Christopher Kelly, The overused phrase "you've never seen anything like it" usually amounts to empty hyperbole, but in the case of the thrilling new musical "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812," now playing on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre, it really does apply.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Dave Malloy's mercifully transporting musical Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 is both a celebration and a cause for it. Mimi Lien's stunning set design transforms the stately Imperial Theatre into an ornate red-and-gold Russian nightclub, with stairs that wind up to the mezzanine, a sinuous catwalk that cuts through the orchestra and musicians planted strategically throughout the space. Members of the cast scatter into the audience and sit next to spectators at cabaret-style tables onstage. Director Rachel Chavkin's approach to the show-spectacular yet intimate, theatrical yet personal-is an ideal complement to Malloy's brilliantly unconventional musical, which breathes modern life into a section of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Joe Dziemianowicz, The New York Daily News: The clean-cut crooner looks thicker in the waist and more unkempt than usual. Fitting, since he's playing a 19th century Russian slacker. The padded pounds and scraggly hair can't conceal Groban's burly burnished singing. The show, like his voice, is a pop-opera-hybrid. And he shines bright like high beams in this richly imaginative work created by Dave Molloy.

Linda Winder, Newsday: If you want to get away - I mean really, really away - from concerns of the day, here is "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812." It's a massive, luscious, romantic escape into decadent 19th century Moscow by way of Broadway's Imperial Theatre.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: The triple threat is rare in the theater, and for good reason. An adventurous Dave Malloy gives us the quadruple threat with his musical "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812," which opened Monday at the Imperial Theatre after a long run Off Broadway.

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: The staging is remarkable considering all its moving parts, and the gifted young ensemble, often cycling at full tilt through multiple roles, earn every ounce of sweat and confetti. But the end result feels a little too much like zero-calorie entertainment (well, not counting the pierogi): brisk and sexy and emotionally weightless. The flow of the story never quite takes hold, and the stakes for these star-crossed lovers feel no more or less crucial then the next musical number tells us it is. (Malloy's lyrics toggle between self-aware wit and straight-up exposition; the melodies themselves don't tend to leave many chemtrails.)

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: Josh Groban - he of the mellifluous lung power so dynamic it could lift a tall ship's sails - is the marquee attraction of "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812," the vivacious new musical that had its official opening Monday night at the Imperial Theatre. And as it turns out, he's neither an overbearing blowhard nor a star adrift. Rather, Groban proves to be a thoroughly winning team player in an offbeat pop opera that is ultimately more memorable for technical dexterity than emotional texture.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812," with Josh Groban and Denee Benton in the title roles, is a luscious, 360-degree immersive experience that feels like being smothered in velvet. After transferring seamlessly from Ars Nova to Kazino, Dave Malloy's innovative musical treatment of a tiny wedge of Tolstoy's "War & Peace" has re-surfaced at the structurally revamped Imperial Theater in a Broadway transfer of the original, wondrously well-staged production by director Rachel Chavkin.

David Cote, NY1: One of the most thrilling Broadway musicals this decade, The Great Comet is intimate yet epic, ironic yet deeply felt, cosmic yet down to earth. It lights up the sky and our hearts.

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