Shines The Great Comet of 1812

The Great Comet closed a year ago, and I like many other fans, miss the production and wish that it was still running. I wanted to take this week to shine a light on The Great Comet and how I got into the musical. Through fellow Board member Rebecca, between the 2015 and 2016 runs, I read her posts on the musical which completely intrigued me. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, also called The Great Comet played Off-Broadway in 2012 and 2013: Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2015 and on Broadway in 2016. The musical had the highest number of Tony Award Nominations in 2017 for both the actors and the production staff, winning Best Scenic Design in a Musical for Mimi Lien and Best Lighting Design in a Musical for Bradley James King. The Broadway production opened on November 14, 2016 and closed on September 3, 2017; the musical will live on in Brazil and Japan.

The aspect of The Great Comet that really drew me to the production was the plot. The musical is based on 70 pages in the middle of War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy; just the fact that it starts in the middle of the book is complicated because these characters are already established. At the core, this is a love triangle, and then as the musical develops, adds a fourth person to the situation ending with Natasha and the one who fought for her. Our story follows Natasha, a young woman who is engaged to Andrey, a soldier in the war. She subsequently meets the dashing Anatole while Andrey is deployed and falls in love with him. Toward the end of the show, family friend Pierre also falls in love with her, and the audience presumes that they become the couple heading to the altar. The complexity of the plot draws you completely into their world in Moscow as does the stage setting which includes theatre attendees. As a romantic, I enjoy the love story aspect of this musical, but there is so much more than just a run of the mill love story going on the in the piece. The family is another important plot point. Not to spoil the musical, but Natasha's cousin Sonya saves Natasha in a few precarious situations; this is also a story of how far you will go to rescue someone you love.

This musical is filled with flawed people who have made mistakes, some such as Natasha, own up to them and others, such as Anatole, never own up to their bad choices. How the characters read as humans to the audience is one of the main reasons that I love them so much; they are not perfect, and they don’t claim to be which is what makes them more interesting for the playgoer. Although the show has 12 characters plus the ensemble, one might think that a few of them would be less interesting; this is not the case as every role has an importance and a purpose in the tale.

When I first heard the Off-Broadway cast recording, I was floored by how unique the music sounded. A multi-layered production such as this one needs music and lyrics to match; something new that you don’t hear repeatedly in musical theatre. When a musical mixes several genres such as electropop, indie, musical theatre and opera in a show, and they oddly work perfectly together, you know that you have something special. In a performance that is an operetta, meaning that there is no dialogue, the music and the lyrics can’t take away from one another. In The Great Comet, the music and lyrics work in harmony to create the full-on experience. The Great Comet was one of the few productions where they are intertwined into the story so flawlessly that one would think that War & Peace was a musical, not a book.  

When you tear down a theatre and rebuild it to make it resemble a Russian supper club, you know that you have a crazy cool set. The Great Comet presented immersive theatre on a completely new level; I sat in the on-stage seats, but there was not a bad seat in the Imperial Theatre for any of the audience. The set helped transform the audience into 19th century Russia. I really felt as though I was in Moscow in 1812 as I was watching the performance surround me in the supper club atmosphere. The set not only enriches the plot, but it adds another dimension because of the way that the design and lighting bring the audience into the world created.

Share your Great Comet memories with us in the comments!

(Photo credit Chad Batka)