a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘CD’

CD of “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet…”A Masterpiece Recording of a Masterpiece Musical!

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!

Natasha, Pierre 22And 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.

Natasha, Pierre 20Groban 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.

amber-grey

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.Denee Benton 1

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!Josh and Lucas

“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.Lucas Steele 1Lucas Steele Lucille Lortel Award 1

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.Natasha, Pierre Marquis

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.Natasha, Pierre Broadway SetYou 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.

Lucas Steele & Denee Benton 1
#Natasha, Pierre, # The Great Comet of 1812, #Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 # Josh Groban, #Lucas Steele, #Tony Awards, #Denee Benton, #Russia, #War and Peace

Advertisements

“Bright Star” Shines on Bway w/terrific debut by Carmen Cusack

Bright Star 5Carmen Cusack 1A  tuneful, ORGINAL new musical is a very rare thing these days on Broadway, but “Bright Star” is just that.  It is really a cause for jubilation. And comedian Steve Martin, of all people, is the power generator behind this welcome bluegrass musical marvel. Edie Brickell, a pop star singer/songwriter who was previously unknown to me, is his musical partner in crime here, and what a delight-filled evening of song they make!

I’ve always felt that a successful musical comedy should just be one wonderful song after the other after the other, and one so rarely sees that anymore on Broadway, but “Bright Star” is just that. The first four numbers alone are so strong and singable “If You Knew My Story”, “She’s Gone”, “Bright Star” and “Back in the Day”are each so startling, memorable and different, I immediately wanted to rush out and buy the CD. Except since “Bright Star” just opened this past week, they don’t have one yet. But they sure as will soon, and I’ll let you know when that delightful event happens.

Other songs, too, including second act showstoppers, “Always Will” and “At Last” are also immediate standards-to-be I’m so sure.

Bright Star 1

And “Bright Star”s ace-in-the-hole is the astonishing Carmen Cusack, who sings nearly all these great songs with a country twang that verges on the operatic. She plays the dauntless heroine Alice Murphy, who, except for her rather trite name, is doubtless also going to be known as one of the greatest roles for an actress in musical comedy history.

Cusack has the daunting task of slipping backwards and forwards in time as her character ages back and forth between a hard-bitten literary editor and a plucky teenage un-wed mother with big dreams in a stultifying North Carolina town. It is put upon Cusack to take us through all these time shifts from 1945-1946 to 22 years earlier, and she does it so effortlessly, and so charmingly that she just made me gasp.

Yes, Carmen Cusack is doing the impossible embodying all these moods and ages that she for sure is now launched into the rarefied Broadway stratosphere as one of its’ most important, as well as newest, diva-cum-star. Who did she remind me most of? A cross between Reba McIntire and Maria Callas. Her roof-raising voice is as rangy as any Puccini heroine.

She is ably abetted in her time-travelling tropes by leading men, Paul Alexander Nolan and also A.J. Shively, who plays a WWII vet with literary aspirations who gets to sing the wonderful, toe-tapping title song “Bright Star.”

Bright Star 3

Broadway vet Michael Mulheren gets to shine, too, finally after a life-time of thankless supporting roles, as the dastardly mayor. Dee Hoty is wasted as our heroine’s weak mother.  Hannah Alless strikes the show’s one false note as its’ stereo-typed ingenue. Underwritten compared to the other female roles, what could anyone do with a part like that that is pure treacle?

Emily Padgett of “Side Show” fares much better as the tart comic relief and Jeff Blumenkrantz is her zesty, funny counterpart, the pair not missing one comic beat. Which one is more deliciously campy, it’s hard to say. They both play imperious editorial employees of the mature Cusack’s magazine.

And the uncanny scenic design by Eugene Lee consists of a house-full of bluegrass musicians, who move in the Southern Gothic A-frame that contains them, back and forth across the stage at a dizzying pace, under the Scene Design Supervision of Edward Pierce that is as lively a choreographic move as the more subdued, but fun ones created by Josh Roberts.

All this is under the redoubtable direction of Walter Bobbie and “Bright Star” hums and purrs and jingle-jangles its’ gentle way into our cynical New York hearts and may indeed have found a permanent place there at the Cort Theater on W.48th Street for a long, long time.Bright Star 2

 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: