Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812, by the greatly talented Dave Malloy ends November 17 at Ars Nova– an extension from its original closing date. See it! This is a show that is mandatory for anybody who has read “War and Peace,” and sure to inspire many who have not read it to pick up Tolstoy’s great novel.
Lest that sound intimidating: “Comet” is not school; it is a party! It is the most inviting example of immersive theater I’ve seen in ages (unlike “Sleep No More,” I didn’t sneeze once!). The audience sits around cabaret tables, the performers bring you pierogi and Russian black bread. There is free vodka. The cast, which is sublime, especially Phillipa Soo as Natasha, sings the lovely, rousing songs of this pop-opera throughout the room – on makeshift stages, the floor between tables, even tabletops. To give you a taste of the score, which veers from rock to folk, klezmer to country, R&B to techno: A dj in sunglasses and t-shirt plays his board in an alcove side-by-side with a cellist wearing a 19th century wool cap.
The story focuses on one small section of the book, Natasha’s arrival In Moscow to await the return of her fiancé from the front lines., her seduction by Anatole (the seductive Lucas Steele) and her saving by Sonya (Brittain Ashford, who has the most exquisite song in the show, “Sonya Alone,”), and by family friend Pierre, played by Malloy himself.
I last saw Malloy in Three Pianos, which also mixed free drinks with high art (it was built around the 24 songs of Schubert’s Winterreise). Director Rachel Chavkin was his collaborator on that show as well. Ok, yes, not every moment of the two and a half hours of “Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812” is equal to every other; not every song is memorable; I might have advised a catchier title. But if there were public nominations for MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Awards, I would suggest both Malloy and Chavkin. I can’t wait for their next theater piece. You should not wait. You’ve got a week left to see Comet.