POST: 'Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812'- I was impressed with how included I felt
What's it about?
Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 is an immersive musical based on (part of) Leo Tolstoy's acclaimed novel, "War and Peace." The story takes place in Moscow, 1812, and centers on the increasingly intertwining lives of the young, newly engaged countess, Natasha, and the middle-aged, unhappily married, aristocrat, Pierre.
What I experienced:
I never wanted to see Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway. I had already seen the show a few years ago, when it was performed inside a huge tent parked on a vacant lot in the theatre district that was decked out to look like a 19th century Russian dinner club. At the time, I had never seen a musical so immersive, so... intimate. The audience all sat at tables where we were encouraged to order overpriced food and drinks. The performers were right there, all around me, looking into my eyes and putting their arms around my shoulders, handing me props, personal notes, and instruments. It was like I was a guest at a private party. All of this interaction and my physical closeness to the actors and musicians made the experience so special, that I couldn't bear to have it ruined.
BUT, admittedly, I was curious as to how it would smoothly transition into a Broadway theatre, and specifically, into a space where all of the seats traditionally faced the stage. That just seemed too limiting, too common... too mainstream. Was Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 selling out? Please no! Despite my misgivings, I also knew enough about theatre to know that Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 likely didn't earn 12 Tony award nominations (the most nominations of any show this season!) for nothing... And so, with the Tony's quickly approaching (June, 11th, guys!), I decided to see for myself what all of the fuss was about.
I walked into a space that barely resembled what I had come to know about Broadway theatres.
There were dozens of people sitting on the stage and a large platform cutting through the mezzanine. I was sat almost as high up and far back as the theatre would allow, but I still had what I thought was an ideal view of the stage. And with a platform only two rows ahead of me, I was expecting to see a good deal of action. I wasn't wrong.
Members of the cast ran about the space throwing tiny cartons of steaming hot pierogies to lucky audience members, and I was one of them! Having never been one to savor things, I wasted no time in devouring my free and delicious treat.
The opening number, "Prologue," hilariously broke down the very complicated family tree, with frequent reminders to consult the visual family tree provided for us in our programs.
Both on my way to the theatre and during intermission, I overheard more than a few people voice just how upset they were that Josh Groban wasn't appearing in this night's performance as Pierre. He did, after all, earn a Tony nomination for the role, and I knew that he alone was motivation enough for some people to shell out money to see Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812. But I was fairly unconcerned. For one thing, Dave Malloy WROTE THE SHOW, which was certainly not a small feat, and he also originated the role of Pierre. I couldn't imagine a person who could have more of a personal connection to the character, story, and the musical as a whole.
After being handed a shaker (along with limited other audience members) to play with the musicians for the remainder of the performance, I was feeling particularly lucky, and kind of impressed with how included I felt. I had sat in the back of the mezzanine at many Broadway shows before, but had certainly never been made to feel like I was a crucial participant in telling whatever story was being told. But between the eye contact, enthusiastic head nods, and conversation (not to mention the pierogi and shaker) I had exchanged with cast members, I felt important, and I wouldn't have rather sat anywhere else.
Perhaps a Broadway space would have proved limiting for another immersive musical production, but not for Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812. They refused to be exclusive, seeing to it that everyone (myself included) believed they had a seat at the table, or in the this case, the theatre. I was surprised at just how much a Broadway venue could be transformed (and I don't mean just the stage area). Every inch of the bordering space was draped in a red velvet curtain, and adorned with several dozens of paintings. There were fancy staircases leading from the orchestra to the mezzanine, to provide easy access for the performers. And platforms ensured that even those not sat in the orchestra or on stage got up-close views of the simultaneous dancing, singing, and instrument playing.
I was hopeful that Broadway was becoming a place of invention and exploration, even experimenting, and that Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 was leading the way...
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What did you experience?
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