Broadway Review: “Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812”


Photo credit/ Bethany Wade

The stage is designed non-traditionally with seating located on the stage and pieces of the stage extending into the mezzanine section.

Bethany Wade, Photography Editor

Who knew 19th century Russia could be so dramatic?

“Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812” is a musical based on a 70-page section of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” novel. The show focuses on Natasha Rostova, who falls for the married Anatole, as her fiancé is away at war. When her reputation is ruined, the titular Pierre steps in to help save it. The show is finishing its nearly year long run at the Imperial Theatre.

The stage is designed non-traditionally with seating located on the stage and pieces of the stage extending into the mezzanine section. This allows guests to be a part of the action. Even the regular mezzanine seats have supporting cast members within close range. Where you sit can completely change your experience of the show.

My seat was the first row front mezzanine, on the far left side. Directly next to me was a piece of the stage and a staircase where several cast members would walk by during the show.

Throughout the song “Sonya Alone,”  Denée Benton as Natasha walked directly past me as Ingrid Michaelson was on the main stage. It felt like I was a part of the number as Benton looked directly at me. By spreading the cast members throughout the theatre, there’s no shortage of action at any point during the show.

Without the energy and talent shown by the supporting cast members, this stage set up would never work. These ensemble members make the experience worthwhile, as they interact with audience members during various points in the show. They even double as members of the orchestra playing violin, clarinet and accordion as needed.

Denée Benton makes her Broadway debut as Natasha, and what a debut it is. She plays the character with such innocence and childlike wonder, it’s easy to feel for her as she falls for the mischievous Anatole. Her vocals are soft, yet offer a punch when needed.

The main cast is a spectacle in itself. Okieriete Onaodowan as Pierre acts as an unstoppable force. Pierre is an outsider, but it’s hard to believe that with the amount of charm and charisma Onaodowan brings to the role. His baritone pipes carry his solos, including the powerful “Dust and Ashes” toward the end of the first act.

One downfall for the production is Ingrid Michaelson as Sonya. Michaelson, a traditional pop vocalist, tries her best to fit in with the traditional Broadway sound. Yet during “Sonya Alone,” one of two Sonya solos, she treats the song as a pop ballad. Because of the song’s simplicity, she can get away with it, but it leaves the audience unsatisfied at the end.

It’s clear that the casting choice was made to follow the recent broadway trend of pop artists filling roles in popular shows, such as Ben Platt in or Brendon Urie in “Kinky Boots,” but this one fell flat.

The music of the show is unique, as it combines the full orchestra sound of classic Broadway, while adding a rock element into some songs. A song like “Charming” for example, starts out with the more traditional sound, then transitions into a rock song by the end. This twist offers a nice variety to the music.

However, this is a sing-through musical, meaning any dialogue said during the show is sung within the songs. That variety causes the actors to become inaudible at times, making it harder to follow what is happening in each scene. When certain lyrics are referring to the actors’ actions, it’s important to hear what he or she is saying.

The dancing, on the other hand, makes up for this because the dancers’ energy is electric. With the stage reaching into the mezzanine, many of the dancers dance through the aisles. In one number, three actors are dancing on a table in the rear mezzanine seats. The dances are energetic, simplistic and get the audience to smile and have a good time.

Overall, the show is a strong historical musical, offering a unique experience to any audience member. If you really want to get the best of what Broadway’s technical artists can do, see this show.

Contact the writer: [email protected]
Twitter: @BethanyWadeTWW