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My Broadway Review System:

Plays take me away from reality, so my measurement system for reviews is for how many levels of reality do I escape. People go to plays to escape the reality of their lives. Here are my levels on how I rate a play:

1 Escape: It will help you forget a weird haircut :)
2 Escapes: It will help you forget that you don’t have hot water :)
3 Escapes: It will help you forget you missed your subway stop :)
4 Escapes: It will help you forget that your dog pooped on the rug :)
5 Escapes: It will help you forget your break up with your girlfriend :)
6 Escapes: It will help you forget work :)
7 Escapes: It will help you forget your body weight :)
8 Escapes: It will help you forget your family problems :)
9 Escapes: It will help you forget the last play you saw was really awful :)
10 Escapes: It will help you forget that you will die someday :)


Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812

Thomas Ellenson

After sold-out productions at the Off-Broadway Ars Nova, and a makeshift tent in the Meatpacking District (and later Midtown NYC), "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" has arrived on Broadway at the Imperial theatre, and it's better than ever! 

Book: "The Great Comet" is an adaptation of a slice (about 70 pages worth) of the masterpiece Tolstoy novel, War and Peace. Set in 19th century Russia, the musical is about Natasha, a young girl engaged to Andrey (who is off fighting in a war), but starts a scandalous relationship when she unexpectedly meets the dashing Anatole at the opera. Meanwhile, Pierre, a friend of Andrey's, is having an existential crisis and is searching for the meaning of life.

Acting: Josh Groban leads the cast, and gives an incredible performance in his Broadway debut. We all know that he has a phenomenal voice, but he also completely embodies the role of "dear, bewildered, and awkward" Pierre. His rendition of the aria "Dust and Ashes" is a show-stopper, and one of the highlights of the evening. Other cast standouts include Denee Benton as Natasha, Lucas Steele as Anatole, Amber Gray as Helene (the wife of Pierre and sister to Anatole), Grace McLean as Marya D., and Brittain Ashford as Sonya. There are so many characters in this musical, and each one has a big song/moment that highlights each actor's immense talent. 

Score: The sung-through musical has an electropop score by Dave Malloy. It is unique and very different to the typical Broadway showtune. My favorite songs include the "Prologue," which explains the different characters and their relationships (there is also a "family tree" in the Playbill because there are so many different major roles from the "complicated Russian novel"), "Pierre," "Charming" (Helene (Amber Gray)'s big showstopper), the aforementioned "Dust and Ashes," the fun and delightful "Balaga" sequence, Natasha's aria "No One Else," and "Sonya Alone." There is a cast recording out with the 2013 Off-Broadway cast, but I hope they record another one to reflect some of the score changes and preserve Groban and Benton's wonderful performances. 

Design: The Imperial theatre has been transformed into an immersive environment with chandeliers, lights, Russian portraits, pre-show Russian folk songs, and a stage that winds around an added section of seats. Director Rachel Chavkin brilliantly staged the performance. The cast runs around the entire setting, and some even make appearances in the mezzanine throughout the show, so no matter where you are sitting you still get the interactive experience (and if you're lucky, maybe even a pierogi, love letter, or egg shaker!). Having seen the show Off-Broadway, I wondered how they would transfer the scenic design on a larger scale, and it's even more spectacular! 

My opinion: "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" is an incredible theatrical experience, definite must-see, and unlike anything I've ever seen on Broadway before. If you saw it Off-Broadway, give it a revisit at the Imperial Theatre. I give it 10/10 escapes!!