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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

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

 

 

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