Review: ‘Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812’ at Imperial Theater

By Jonathan Spira on 21 November 2016
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The Imperial Theater, home to “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” which opened with a bang last Monday, never looked like this, a re-imagined Russian supper club with an entryway that resembles a Cold War bunker’s. Indeed, few theatergoers have seen something as lavish and as complicated as this, a show so complex and with so many characters that a tutorial – in the form of a song of course – is necessary to set the scene.

This is all in your program
You are at the opera
Gonna have to study up a little bit
If you wanna keep 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

Things got somewhat more complicated as I made my way to the theater, thanks to a telephone call informing me that Josh Groban, the star who plays Pierre, was “under the weather.” In his stead, Scott Stangland, who had played the role in the pre-Broadway run at the American Repertory Theater, would take on his duties.

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I needn’t have been concerned given that this is truly an ensemble piece and the absence of a single regular cast member – even the putative star – wouldn’t really matter. Indeed, I was actually wowed by Mr. Stangland’s performance and, while I intend to go back and see the show with Mr. Groban, I can’t really imagine that it would be any better.

The show is a pop musical based on a small section of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” where midway through the story Tolstoy describes how Pierre observes this “enormous and brilliant comet… which was said to portend all kinds of woes and the end of the world,” and is more in the style of “Hamilton” than just a love story set in Czarist Russia.

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