The soon-to-be-released 2-disc CD of the Original Broadway Cast of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is a masterpiece of recording of a masterpiece musical. I’m sorry, I just can’t stop the superlatives when talking about “Natasha, Pierre..” or as some call it “The Great Comet.” But whatever you call it, I predict it’s going to land like a bomb in the middle of TONY awards season. It’s due out May 19 and it will be flying off the shelves, like, well, like the great comet that it memorializes forever in this dazzling pop-opera spectacle that I’ve seen FOUR times and I can’t wait to see again!
And yes, the magnificent lyric baritone of the legendary Josh Groban pierces through the massive ensemble and breaks your heart, with a vocal range we have barely heard him use before, especially thrilling in the darker, almost guttural, lower tones. Groban is turning into a consummate actor-singer right before our very eyes, and he has been selling out Broadway with this fiery, very avant-garde opera that challenge him at every step he takes and every note he sings and he meets the challenges magnificently..
And yes, I could see him singing at the Met one of these years. His voice just grows in depth and resonance in this incredible recording, as his performance as Pierre Bezukov has grown, too, since I first saw it. “Poor, bewildered Pierre, a warm-hearted Russian of the old school” sings the full-throated chorus, masterfully orchestrated by composer Dave Malloy. He was nominated for TWO Tonys, for his score and his orchestrations of it.
Groban has two stunning solo numbers “Dust and Ashes” which ends his Act One and the title song, which ends the show. He is also singing throughout the entire score, with that pure, moving voice that is sometimes here almost a rock rasp. “What? What? WHAT?” he wails as his cousin Maria Demitryevka (the frightening Grace McLean) tells him some very alarming news indeed regarding his unrequited love, beautiful, young Natasha.
His Pierre is angry, frustrated, and almost always reading or drunk. He is married to “a bad wife”, the slinky, sensual Amber Grey as Helene.
She continues with this sensational role of “the slut”, wailing like a blues singer, belting out “Charmante,” wearing green furs and sequins, and sounding for all the world like a Russian Billy Holliday. As she helps seduce innocent Natasha, a better-than-ever Denee Benton, for her dissolute brother Anatole.
He is played to the hilt and beyond by Lucas Steele, who has also been with the show through all the years of its’ many peregrinations as has Amber Grey, McLean and many others. He actually has a larger role than Groban!
“Natasha, Pierre…” has had a grueling five year journey From the tiny Ars Nova theater Off-Off Broadway to the festive circus tent in the meat-packing district, where I first saw it. where they served dinner! They also went to Boston to the ART theater there. All the while under the stupendously inventive guidance of director Rachel Chavkin. who is herself nominated for a Tony, too.
“Natasha, Pierre…” has now been nominated for TWELVE Tony Awards and I hope it wins all of them. Groban, Benton and Steele have all been nominated in their categories, but only Lucas Steele of the actors has won an award for the evil Anatole so far. He scored a prestigious Lucille Lortel Award.
In his category, Best Featured Actor in a Musical, he’s up against Broadway veteran Gavin Creel, who is a riot in “Hello, Dolly!” Both shows are mega-hits, but Steele’s Anatole is so dastardly, and also so devilishly handsome and sexy AND he plays the violin, having a wild solo as he fiddles away, preparing his plans to abduct the underage Natasha. He’s married already, and it’s a crime that he’s about to perpetrate. Yes, even in 1812 Moscow, he would be considered a criminal. and yes, this is all out of a tiny sliver of the 1000+plus-paged novel “War and Peace” from which this epic is adapted by the uber-talented Malloy.
This sliver is so epic…you can only imagine what the rest of Tolstoy’s classic novel is like. Believe it or not, I read it in the 8th grade. The other kids in the Bronx Catholic boys school I was doomed to, made fun of me carrying his huge tome around with me for a year.
“Are you really reading all that?”
Yes, I was and I did, and I’m so glad now that I can say that I felt every inch a genuine Russian after reading it and especially seeing “Natasha, Pierre” FOUR times! And now this extraordinarily beautiful, tuneful, masterfully recorded treasure of a CD is coming soon! May 19! Remember that date!
I saw “NPATGCOE,” as the Internet might abbreviate, this last time, seated RIGHT ON THE STAGE! Every time you see it sitting in a different place in the wildly re-devised Imperial theatre, it’s like seeing a different play! When you’re sitting on the stage itself, you feel like you are IN the play! The stage actually vibrates with the bass notes of the synthesizer that sometimes Josh Groban himself is playing in the pit of the orchestra. Which is stage center and completely unhidden.
In fact, from his first entrance in front of a blinding blaze of white lights, he is playing the accordion himself, and he rarely if ever leaves the stage. Bespectacled Pierre is Tolstoy’s alter-ego. He is one of the first, modern anti-heroes. He is thoroughly depressive, a big Russian,
beaten-up bear of a character. And yes, he’s the hero of “War and Peace.” Groban to his everlasting credit has totally immersed himself to the point of unrecognizability in his heroic, vanity free performance. He is wearing a fat suit. He now lumbers and growls and shuffles his considerable weight as a middle-aged man would. His long, thin fingers shake with what may be delirium tremens as in a man who drinks Way too much. His young brow is now furrowed, without any make-up.
You can hear this bear of a character that he is so perfectly portraying growling through the CD like a wounded animal. But like the maestro he is, Pierre’s voice, his howl of pain, is always also modulated and very, very beautiful. And moving.You must hurry and buy it. I predict it will be a best seller, the first Broadway recording and the best maybe ever. It could go platinum in five minutes. And go see Groban live and onstage before he leaves the show forever in July. He’s entitled. He’s been packing them in on Broadway, for nearly a year, revitalizing it and don’t even get me started on Mimi Lien’s transformative set and the wild, magnificent lighting of Bradley King! Both also nominated for Tonys. I hope they all win!
I also have to add that there seems to be a thousand-voiced choir, an epic number of voices that call themselves “The Great Comet Singers” who are pictured in the CD program and contribute to the amazing sound and rhythm of “Balaga” and “The Abduction.” They are also credited as “Shakers.” Because the audience was all given egg-shaped shakers to increase the beat of the delirious troika ride to end all troika rides in Act Two. Yes, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” of 1812 will abduct you, too. Your heart, I mean. You’ll never think of musicals the same way again.
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