Great Lakes Theater ‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812’ blazes forth
The first sensation you get when entering the Hanna Theatre for the production of “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” is expectation of something bigger than life. The predominately red stage set with curved back wall and mirrors overlooks a red leather couch, an upright piano and small bar. In the center of the ceiling is an elaborate lighting fixture that doubles as both chandelier and comet.
The show is a sung through musical adaptation of a 70 page segment from Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel “War and Peace” (in particular, Part 8). It focuses on Natasha’s romance with Anatole and Pierre’s search for meaning in his life. The show was written by Composer/Lyricist Dave Malloy.
The show first saw the light of stage at the Ars Nova in 2012 followed by 2013 stagings in both the Meatpacking District and the Theater District of Manhattan. In 2015 it emerged again at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Its Broadway premier starred Josh Groban making his Broadway debut as Pierre replacing Dave Malloy. The show was on Broadway for nearly a year and was nominated for 12 Tony awards of which it won two (Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design in a Musical).
It is 1812, Moscow, Russia as the main characters are introduced in song beginning with Pierre (Alex Syiek), a well to do member of royalty who is unhappily married and who drinks way too much. Pierre is good friends with Andrey Bolkonsky who is away fighting against Napoleon's army that has invaded Russia. Andrey is engaged to Natasha (Jessi Kirtley) who has a cousin Sonya Rostova (Alexa Lopez) with the two of them visiting Natasha’s godmother, Marya Dmitrievna (Jodi Dominic) in Moscow.
Marya is old school Russian seeing that no scandals can come near the family. Natasha is to meet her future in-laws that include Andrey’s sister Mary Bolkonskaya (Camille Brooks) and his father, the elderly and slightly crazy Prince Bolkonsky (Cole Burden). The meeting does not go well as Natasha finds Mary cold, Mary finds Natasha very vain and Bolkonsky behaves in his usual bizarre way. As Natasha departs she misses her betrothed even more.
The following evening Natasha goes to the opera with Sonya and Marya and catches the eye of Anatole Kuragin (Chris McCarrell) who is a notorious rogue and brother of Helene Bezukhova (Jillian Kates) who is Pierre’s promiscuous wife. Even though it is a brief encounter, Natasha has feelings of great intensity. Anatole goes home but ends up going drinking with his friend Fedya Dolokhov (Dario Alvarez) and Pierre at a local Vodka bar. They are met by Helene.
Anatole expresses his love for Natasha even though he is already married. Helene flirts with Dolokhov who taunts Pierre with a toast to “married women and their lovers”. Pierre challenges Fedya to a duel. Pierre accidentally wounds Dolokhov who after taking careful aim misses Pierre completely. As they leave the dueling site Anatole begs Helene to invite Natasha to a ball that evening. Pierre begins to reflect on his life, realizing that he wishes to live.
The next morning, Natasha prepares for church but is confused about her feelings for Anatole at the opera and guilty over her feelings concerning Andrey. Helene arrives to invite Natasha to the ball who accepts after some hesitation. The night of the ball, Natasha is met by Anatole and they dance. Anatole professes his love to Natasha who reminds him that she is engaged. Instead, Anatole kisses Natasha leading her to fall very much in love with him.
This production is perfectly suited for the confines of the Hanna Theatre as various members of the cast situate themselves among the audience, along the various walls and up and down the various aisles. It is surround sound theater. Each actor is multi-talented in singing, dancing, acting and in come cases musicians. It is an evening of surprises that make for true delight. Most notable is Alex Syiek as Pierre and Jessi Kirtley as Natasha as they play to the emphasis of their character’s faults. The eight piece orchestra is excellent and aptly helped along with Pierre on Accordion and Fedya on guitar with other cast members filling in as well on various instruments. In the end the finale brings forth the comet which blazes above their heads.
This show while a bit long (just under two and a half hours) is so engrossing the time passes very quickly. There is an intensity that is seldom seen in theater these days. You will find yourself caught up and swept away by the grandness of it all. See this show!
The Great Lakes Theater production of “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 will be on stage in the Hanna Theatre through October 8, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.greatlakestheater.org/ or call (216) 241-6000.