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Posts tagged ‘Leo Tolstoy’

Josh Groban Makes Musical Theater History on Bway in Spectactular “Natasha, Pierre…”

Can you believe that schlump is  handsome rock star Josh Groban???

natasha-pierre-1How to describe what is certainly one of the best musical theater experiences I’ll ever have in my life? There are no words. Only superlatives, and they can’t even begin to do justice to the transformative, shocking, heart-breaking, bravura performance Josh Groban gives in the pop-opera “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comic of 1812” now on Broadway at the Imperial Theater. Former home to “Les Miserables” which ran there for decades and I’m predicting this will, too.

And win Josh Groban Best Actor in a Musical and every other Tony in the book. Move over “Hamilton” there’s a new masterpiece in town! (And it’s right next door to “Hamilton” too!)”Natasha, Pierre…” is a tiny sliver of Leo Tolstoy’s 1000 page epic Russian novel “War and Peace” and is as unlikely a musical comedy blockbuster as “Hamilton.” The War that’s “breaking out somewhere out there” is the Napoleonic War against Russia. But in Moscow, the decadent aristocracy is partying like it’s 2016.

They sing “Chandeliers and caviar! The war can’t touch us here!” But of course, it is, led by Napoleon. And  as it gets closer and closer the  aristocrats & the party crowd are becoming more and more frantic.

 

natasha-pierre-5Those who’ve been following the career of pop star Josh Groban will be stunned by the absolute 360 he’s done with “Natasha, Pierre…” which is as innovative and spectacular a musical, and risky, too, as the astounding performance Groban gives in it. You see, “Natasha, Pierre…” is not your ordinary musical comedy. It’s hardly a comedy at all, though you do feel like you’ve been in the midst of a drunken Russian party that turned into a wild, thumping troika ride.

As a handsome young man, who is now unbelievably only 35, one did wonder what Groban, a brilliant musician, lyricist and composer as well as a platinum selling recording artist with four world tours and seven albums under his belt, and millions of fans to boot. Sexy, and angelic at the same time, one wondered what he was going to do when his teenaged good looks and youth appeal began to wear off. Not that it has, but Groban was open-minded and daring enough to take on the completely incongruous and daunting role of Pierre Bezukov, Tolstoy’s depressive, over-weight, bespectacled alter-ego in “War and Peace.” It’s proving to be the role of his career.natasha-pierre-4

At first entrance, on to the stage, flanked by a blinding bank of rock star lighting (by Mimi Lien, whose contribution  is inestimable) Groban enters as Pierre with an accordion, then makes his way almost lumbering to center stage, down several stair cases (director Rachel Chavkin has carved up the Imperial into a brand-new, almost intimate cabaret-like space and puts the audience onstage, too!) and you think that middle-aged, almost-fat man CAN’T be Josh Groban, but it is! josh-groban

Heavily bearded with long-grown out, almost greasy, dark, curly locks, he looks nothing like any iteration we’ve seen of Josh Groban  before. He’s almost unrecognizable!  He’s totally transmogrified himself into this hulking Russian bear of a character, but that’s exactly what Tolstoy wrote his hero as. He’s the symbol of pre-Napoleonic Russian aristocracy.

He’s depressive. He’s unattractive and he drinks and drinks and drinks.

“I drink and read and drink and read and drink,” he sings in a confused clarion of voice that is less than happy about this inactive plight.

He’s married to a completely inappropriate wife, the witchily attractive Helene, who is referred to in the opening number simply as “Helene’s a slut.” Amber Gray plays Helene with exactly the right blend of nastiness, sexuality and charm. as she sashays  her way through the night seductively telling our heroine, the virginal Natasha (Denee Benton) that she is “Charmante, Charmante.”amber-greyHer brother, who turns out to be a dastard of the first water, Anatole, is portrayed with a devil-ish  blend of blond good looks, rock star pompadour hair, and VERY tight military pants by Lucas Steele. “Anatole’s hot” the opening chorus sings. And who are we to disagree?natasha-pierre-2He’s out to elope, or basically kidnap, Natasha. He’s already married and clearly an irresistible and untrustworthy slime-ball. Anatole’s seduction of Natasha, who thinks he’s going to marry her, forms the plot that is as wildly complicated as the novel itself. But don’t be scared of Tolstoy. You can follow him.natasha-pierre-6

 

Dave Malloy, who I saw play Pierre originally three years ago, wrote the music, lyrics and adaptation. It is all sung-through, so yes, it is indeed an opera, but it’s only a tiny sliver of Tolstoy. Volume 2, Part 5, to be exact. I saw it first in a circus tent in the Meat Packing District of the West Village, where they served a Russian meal to you while seated at cabaret tables(see above.) It was dazzling, even then.

Phillipa Soo was astounding as Natasha, and went on to become a Broadway star as Eliza Hamilton in “Hamilton.” But Denee Benton, who plays Natasha now, just glows and glows and grows on you, too, the absolute picture of willful innocence and stubbornness as she falls in love with, then insists on her ill-advised elopement with bad boy Anatole.

A core of miraculously agile, vocally and physically, actors continued with the show from the tent  they called Kazino to Broadway, including Amber Gray, Brittain Ashford and Grace McLean. In that cast I first saw, Josh Canfield of “Survivor: San Juan del Sur” fame, was equally charismatic as Anatole.

But it’s Groban that kicks this show upstairs and into theatrical history with his astonishing performance and perfect voice. To hear someone who has been called a choir boy for years with his perfect pitch and miraculous tenor, tear into the gutsy, difficult, challenging, sometimes discordant vocals of “Natasha, Pierre…” is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Drunken, depressed, over-weight, near-sighted and scruffy though his Pierre convincingly is, his golden tones ring out in the night(and twice weekly at matinees.) His respect for the other actors is evident as he also blends seamlessly into their tight ensemble.

Josh Groban, genius that he is, has perspicaciously plunged himself into the midst of an equally amazing group of fellow-artists, who are geniuses, too, in their own ways. Did I mention Mimi Lien’s lighting? She’s the recipient of a MacArthur Genius grant. So it’s official. And of course, there’s a killer solo that composer Malloy newly wrote just for Groban that they call “Dust and Ashes”, but I would call “This is how I die?” as Pierre berates himself for his intellectual inaction as “there’s a war going on out there somewhere.”

I’ve seen “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” three times now and I can’t wait to see it again!

Groban has committed an entire year to staying in this historic production and helping it thrive. It’s been making a million dollars a week.

#Josh Groban

# Broadway musicals

#Natasha, Pierre…

#Tony Awards

# Broadway

 

 

Video

Year’s Ten Best Pt.2 #5-1 ~The Stephen Holt Show at Tavola!

And here’s the top five of my year’s Ten Best of 2012, the best of the best! With “Picnic”s Matthew Goodrich at Tavola, the hot new Italian restaurant. 488 9th Ave.
This has been one of the best year’s for movies in many, many years, soooo many grrreat films! If you’ve been following this blog, you probably know what I’ve picked before I announce it!

Dazzling Oscar Hopeful Keira Knightley ~ Magnificent as “Anna Karenina”!

Beautiful, radiant, witty, intelligent and maturing into one of the great screen actresses of our time, Keira Knightley chats “Anna Karenina” with me at the Toronto International Film Festival 2012. Her breathtaking, bravura performance of Anna as a heroine AND an anti-heroine in this radical re-telling of Tolstoy’s oft-filmed tale,is like a dark diamond and  has Oscar Nomination written all over it.

Oscar Races Explode at TIFF! Dame Maggie, Keira, Marion,Laura Linney square off!

As TIFF winds down, I’m back already in NYC, and finally at a stationary  location, where I can tell you all about it! Came back on Amtrak yesterday and ran into Super Critic Thelma Adams (of all people!) on the train, too,  who had a LOT to say about the goings on in the Best Actress race at TIFF. I’ll let the great Thelma speak for herself. Check her out on www.yahoo.com these days. Or at her own website.

My take? Well, Dame Maggie Smith came out of TIFF on Sunday night smelling like an Oscar rose with the triumphant reception of the Weinstein Co.’s “Quartet.” Dame Maggie, who is an unbelievably vital 80(!) wowed the crowd, I understand. I saw director Dustin Hoffman(of all people) equally receive bravos and the most heartfelt, loudest and longest ovation, I’ve ever heard or seen at TIFF ~ BEFORE A MOVIE! Yes, he introduced it and Dame Maggie and co-star Pauline Collins, had already returned to the UK, I guess, but Billy Connolly and Tom Courtenay were there to receive the huzzahs at the screening I caught on Monday, the day before I left.

However, it’s Dame Maggie’s film all the way. And as for Oscar? By George, I think she’s got it. Playing a VERY temperamental and disliked retired Opera Diva being sent into a retirement home that looks like Downton Abbey, Dame Maggie pulls out all the stops and shows why she is STILL one of our greatest leading actresses.

With two previous Oscar wins, could she possibly snag a third a la Meryl Streep last year? And like last year, she has the greatest secret weapon of Best Actress upset winners, HARVEY WEINSTEIN(!?!) behind her! How can she lose?

Well, Fox Searchlight as I’ve said earlier is positioning Dame Judi Dench(they’re VERY close friends IRL) opposite her in Best Actress from “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and if they both make it into the nominations’ circle, the Dames could cancel each other out. Dame Judi has an Oscar already, too. For “Shakespeare in Love” In Supporting. For eight minutes onscreen. But stil…

AND Dame Maggie has ANOTHER campaign on her behalf going for her. “Best Exotic Marigold”s Fox Searchlight is going for a Supporting Actress nomination for that film where she is playing a crotchety Cockney retiree. So she may get TWO Oscar nominations this year! PLUS the beloved “Downton Abbey” mojo, and Dame Maggie has Oscar buzz galore.

However, if the two Dames DO cancel each other out, who else is there? Well, suddenly after TIFF, there’s a LOT. Most especially Keira Knightley’s magnificent, unforgettable “Anna Karenina” which may also garner nominations in every single category available, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay(Tom Stoppard), Best Supporting Actor(Jude Law) Best Costumes(a cinch), Best Sets(natch) Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score. Best Everything, basically.

And “Quartet” won’t have that across the categories support…It’s corny as hell. But Dame Maggie and also Pauline Collins are super superb.

And there’s Marion Cotillard’s bone-crushing, heart-breaking “Rust and Bone” and back to the spring 9-year-old Qu’venzhane Wallis seems a shoo-in. Yes, even Thelma thought so. I guess I can reveal that.

Also well received is Jennifer Lawrence(yes, HER again) in “Silver Linings Playbook” which is something I haven’t seen. The only one actually, of all the best actress contenders…But since Marion Cotillard is without make-up, without hair-styling, and without legs in “Rust and Bone” I think SHE’S got the heart-breaking edge, over any comic performance.

And lastly, I have to mention the beloved Laura Linney’s understated, muted turn in “Hyde Park on the Hudson” underplaying a “little grey wren” to perfection against Bill Murray’s larger than life FDR. But does the Academy ever go for subtle and quite as Scott Feinberg posited in his Oscar review from Telluride at http://www.thehollywoodreporter.com ? They all LOVE Laura, so it’s possible.

And Dame Maggie has TWO Oscars ~ so far. But if I know Harvey Weinstein, she could can a third! But it’s a level playing field between these great ladies, and Qu’venzhane Wallis, too. They should ALL win!

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