This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

23Oct/12

NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812

The cast of NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 toasts creator Dave Malloy, who also plays Pierre (photo by Ben Arons)

Ars Nova
511 West 54th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through November 17, $30, 8:00
212-352-3101
www.arsnovanyc.com

Inspired by a section of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 epic, War and Peace, Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 is a rousing and rollicking immersive rock opera filled with treachery, deceit, romance, humor, and food and drink. Scenic designer Mimi Lien has transformed Ars Nova into an 1812 Moscow club, where patrons are seated together at small tables, banquettes, and a long, curved bar and greeted by a complimentary bottle of vodka and a plate of potato pierogis and pumpernickel bread. The action takes place everywhere, as the actors pop up on the bar, sit at a table, and wander through the audience, Bradley King’s expert lighting and Matt Hubbs’s sound design helping people locate the actors. Russian epics can get rather complicated, so the show opens with a prologue in which the characters introduce themselves one by one and set up the story, which involves a beautiful young woman, Natasha (Phillipa Soo), who is engaged to Andrey, who is off fighting the war against Napoleon, but Natasha soon falls for engaging cad Anatole (Lucas Steele), who is the brother of town tart Hélène (Amber Gray), who is married to the hapless cuckold Pierre (Malloy, who also plays piano in the live band, which is scattered throughout the space). “Everyone’s got nine different names,” the cast sings, “but look it up in your program / We’d appreciate it / Thanks a lot.” Indeed, the program includes a plot synopsis as well as a map of who’s who and how they are connected.

Natasha (Phillipa Soo) is caught in a dangerous love triangle in rollicking new rock opera (photo by Ben Arons)

The talented cast also features Brittain Ashford as Natasha’s well-meaning cousin Sonya; a scene-stealing Blake DeLong as Andrey’s crotchety father, Prince Bolkonsky; Amelia Workman as Natasha’s overprotective godmother, Marya D; Gelsey Bell as Andrey’s very serious sister, Mary; Nick Choksi as Anatole’s best friend, Dolokhov; and associate musical director Paul Pinto as troika driver Balaga. The bawdier first act is followed by a mellower second act highlighted by a show-stopping performance by Bell as Sonya laments what has befallen Natasha. The rock-solid music is played by cellists Brent Arnold and Raymond Sicam III, clarinetist Mark Dover, bassist John Murchison, oboist Sally Wall, and violist Pinky Weitzman, giving a Russian twist to the Jesus Christ Superstar-like score. Directed with flair and verve by Rachel Chavkin, who previously worked with Malloy (Beowulf — A Thousand Years of Baggage, Clown Bible) on the Obie-winning Three Pianos, the world premiere of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 offers adventurous theatergoers a fabulously good time, a unique experience that is fun for all in a wide variety of ways.