It’s hard to do musical theater justice to any good novel, let alone the greatest of Russia’s many great novels, Leo Tolstoy’s “War & Peace”. But Director Rachel Chavkin somehow managed to pull it off. Throughout “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”, the characters’ emotions oscillated between extremes, and mimicked those experiencing the (in)famous Russian elixir for the first time: intrigue, fascination, excitement, confusion, disgust and sobriety. The cycle repeats itself.
Reading while eating is an (un)common faux pas, yet that didn’t prevent “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” to stir all of the senses and most taste-buds into a “Tsar Feast”. Last night’s aristocratic meal was graciously prepared by NYC’s Russian restaurant-du-jour Mari Vanna, whose own evenings and weekends at 41 E 20th St can easily compete with any off-off-off Broadway musical theater with a dinner menu.
Tolstoy is a product of 19th century. Written in 1869 “War & Peace” is an outdated and tough read for the young American audience spoiled by the easy (and cheap) entertainment options of Hulu and Netflix. Dave Malloy’s brilliantly reductionist script, paired with unexpected and catchy soundtrack and surgically-precise set designed by Matt Hubbs and Mimi Lien respectively, brought Tolstoy’s War & Peace light-years forward, albeit into the alternative universe. Reminiscent of Berlin’s Berghain club meets Gogol Bordello, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is a worthy visit for (in)experienced Broadway musicals fans. And one gets a plastic ‘Faberge’ egg to keep as a souvenir!
“War and Peace” is the definitive epic of all time. It is hard to imagine that circumstances will ever again combine to make a more spectacular, yet approachable, and — yes — splendid experience. Perhaps “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is greatest of the balancing acts between the intimate and the epic, bringing the musical theater form to its ultimate statement and at the same time supplying the drink, the meal, and the epitaph.