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Great Comet to Close September 3. Could It Have Been Saved?

“Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” will close September 3, 2017 on Broadway, having played 32 previews and 336 regular performances — a journey that began at the small, experimental Off Broadway theater Ars Nova in 2012, and traveled to site-specific tents before graduating to the Great White Way.

Plans are afoot for a national tour, during 2019 at the earliest

The timing of the announcement provokes some tough questions:

Could the casting of Mandy Patinkin have saved it?

Did the backlash over his casting in support of doom the show?

How essential is a star for an innovative show to survive on Broadway?

Click on any photographs by Chad Batka or Jonathan Mandell to see them enlarged.

 

After Josh Groban left his starring role as Pierre in The Great Comet in July, the producers cast Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan, one of the original cast members of Hamilton, to take on the role. Ticket sales went down. In the last week in which Josh Groban performed, ticket grosses exceeded $1.4 million; in the week after, under $900,000; it rose only slightly after Oak took over on July 11th.  This is still more than the show costs each week, but not enough to pay back investors. In response, two weeks later,  Mandy Patinkin was asked to assume the role for three weeks,  cutting Oak’s run to August 13th — but reportedly with the understanding that he would return after Patinkin’s run.

Most publications hurrahed Patinkin’s return to Broadway after 17 years. But Broadway Black observed: “…the abrupt replacement of [Oak’s} role to boost ticket sales raises questions about how Black actors are valued and supported within Broadway.”


Prominent voices such as Cynthia Errivo agreed on social media, and two days later, Patinkin backed out of the show, saying  “I would never accept a role knowing it would harm another actor.”  But Oak said he would keep the new date of August 13th as his final performance.

“So sorry to have missed the racial optics of it,” Great Comet creator Dave Malloy wrote. But he said sales were “catastrophically low.”

Insiders maintain that the controversy killed the chance of getting a star replacement — who would want to get tainted by the racial politics? — and argued that Malloy’s comment about low ticket sales kept theatergoers from buying any.

Understudy Scott Stangland will assume the role of Pierre after Oak leaves, followed by Dave Malloy for the final two weeks.

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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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