Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Critics' pick
1/8
Photograph: Chad Batka
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
2/8
Photograph: Chad Batka
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
3/8
Photograph: Chad Batka
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
4/8
Photograph: Chad Batka
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
5/8
Photograph: Chad Batka
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
6/8
Photograph: Chad Batka
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
7/8
Photograph: Chad Batka
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
8/8
Photograph: Chad Batka
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Theater review by Adam Feldman. Kazino (Off Broadway). By Dave Malloy. Dir. Rachel Chavkin. With Malloy, Phillipa Soo, Lucas Steele. 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.

[Note: Since this review was written, Kazino has moved from the Meatpacking District to the Times Square district, and there have been several changes to the cast.]

Revisiting a favorite show, like reuniting with a lover after months of separation, can be a source of concern. Has it changed since last I saw it? Have I? Was it as lovely as I thought, or was I swayed by all the vodka? Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 was the best thing I saw in a theater last year, when it played at Ars Nova; now it has reopened at Kazino, a sumptuous pop-up venue in the Meatpacking District that—in accordance with the musical’s immersive approach—doubles as a Russian supper club. I needn’t have worried: Natasha, Pierre is bigger but as beautiful as ever.

Director Rachel Chavkin’s restaging preserves the sense of convivial welcome that makes the show feel magical. An eight-piece band is scattered throughout the room, which has been designed with playful imagination by Mimi Lien; the cast of ten, luxuriously costumed by Paloma Young and newly augmented with a chorus of six, mingles with an audience seated at cabaret-style tables. (The price of admission, steeper than it used to be but worth every kopeck, includes a modest dinner and a shot of booze.) The closeness of the quarters is essential to the way Natasha, Pierre operates; at such close range, the more raucous numbers in Malloy’s highly eclectic score—including several that dabble in electronica—come to vibrant life, while the more delicate ones have room to spin their silk.

Adapted from a brief section of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the musical is set in 19th-century Moscow but is also straightforwardly a performance in the present; the tone alternates charmingly between artful literary seriousness and artless modern directness. In the opening song, the cast offers a cheerful cheat sheet of the characters (“Dolokhov is fierce / Hélène is a slut / Anatole is hot / Marya is old-school / Sonya is good / Natasha is young / And Andrey isn’t here”), and the program includes a diagram of their relationships lest the audience get confused. As performed by Chavkin’s splendid ensemble, however, Tolstoy’s bittersweet tale of romance and betrayal comes through clearly on its own.

Malloy himself, scruffy of face and voice, plays Pierre, a decent man mired in alcoholic self-disgust and inured to the infidelities of his wife, Hélène (a velvety Amber Gray). The exquisite Phillipa Soo is Natasha, new to Moscow and disastrously taken with the peacockish Anatole (Lucas Steele, strutting and singing adeptly). Radiant in her naïveté, Soo is also deeply affecting in her eventual disgrace; and Brittain Ashford, as Natasha’s friend Sonya, brings ravishing simplicity and depth to her melancholy solo in the second act.

Although much of the plot is unhappy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is ultimately a joyous affair. The celestial phenomenon of the title makes a late entrance as the occasion for a touching envoi—the last of many subtle twists, narrative and musical, that Malloy threads into the show. Each scene takes you by surprise; each song takes you for a whirl. Inventive and thoughtful, knowingly sincere, this is theater like no other in New York. It grounds you and transports you at once, and leaves you beaming with pleasure.—Adam Feldman

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam

[Note: The following is Adam Feldman's review of the 2012 production of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 at Ars Nova.]

I know, I know: A two-and-a-half-hour sung-through adaptation of War and Peace, performed in an immersive environment, may sound as appealing as the Great Retreat from Moscow. But Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 feels like a party from start to end: lively, intelligent and utterly engrossing. Seated at cabaret tables, spectators snack on pierogi and black bread, plus limitless shots of chilled vodka; in the pretention-puncturing opening number, the company urges them to consult the program freely (“Cuz it’s a complicated Russian novel / Everyone’s got nine different names”). Directed by Rachel Chavkin with spectacular attention to detail and charm, this may be the least invasive evening of interactive theater I have ever attended; it glows with hospitality.

The slice of Tolstoy’s novel adapted by Malloy has very little war, but none of its characters are at peace; high-strung high-society Muscovites, they are buffeted by competing forces of passion, honor and depression. The dazzlingly variegated score—which covers musical terrain from folk songs through rock, R&B and house music—captures their story in stirring and surprising ways; it is superbly performed throughout by a cast led by Malloy as the self-loathing Pierre, Lucas Steele as the handsome but disreputable Anatole, Brittain Ashford as the soulful Sonya and Phillipa Soo (in a magical debut) as the lovely, naive Natasha. Space permits no more enthusiasm, except to say that this is a rare and marvelous event: amid the din of New York, an oasis of artful illumination.—Adam Feldman

Average User Rating

2.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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  • 3 star:1
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  • 1 star:5
LiveReviews|10
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Maya Barland

Horrible administration and security. I felt like I am surrounded by KGB. Could not enjoy the show. Still shaking from words spelled from manager's mouth. Mostly... " Shut up" etc. Outrages and insulting..

Maya Barland

Horrible administration and security. I felt like I am surrounded by KGB. Could not enjoy the show. Still shaking from words spelled from manager's mouth. Mostly... " Shut up" etc. Outrages and insulting..

greg

Don't believe the website when it says the ticket covers 'dinner and show'. Their definition of dinner is a shot glass of Borscht (cold beet soup) a small bread roll and pickled vegetables- you are expected to buy everything else. the atmosphere is good and the setting is interesting but the performances are not that strong. The music is very good, however and the lighting is innovative. Drinks are expensive but the extra food we bought was good value. We paid half price for the tickets- I would NOT have been happy if I had paid $125 for each ticket.

Yes Please

So the food is nothing to write home about. But the performers, set and staging is stunning. Beautiful and moving. Really, you are not there for the "service" but brilliant to have everything moving all around. I sat on the main floor and felt I saw everything I needed to see. Would love to go again.

Alistair

Booked this show on the basis of the normally reliable TONY review. I must be from a different planet because I really disliked this show. Enough to leave at the interval even though we'd payed in excess of $250 for two tickets. I'm no critic but I couldn't find much to like about this show or the characters. Plenty of fluff and spectacle and flashing strobe lights, but just empty. I actually began to dislike the characters partly I think because I felt trapped, in that there appeared to be no exit other than to walk through the performance to escape. Something I wish with hind sight I had done because it was a chore to get to the interval. In fairness on the night I was there there were people who had been on more than one occasion, so plainly it offers something to someone. For me though the experience was utterly emotionless other than for the longing I felt for my lost $250 and the slap up meal this could have provided.

Ewan Currie

This experience went downhill form the start. We were sat at the smallest table ever, very cramped and close to the other guests, so close that we accidentally knocked over the next guests drink (and she proceeded to whine about it for the next ten minutes). We were never offered bread and then the cast member that was serving us totally missed ud=s out so we didnt get our starter, Because the show had started there was no way of asking for ours. The cast member spent more time talking the the whiny guest and ignored us. This spoiled the show as we couldnt engage with the story because we were hungry. We left at the interval and to add insult to injury when we complained we were offered a free drink but when I suggested that they could waive the bill for the first and only round was met with silence. Shame it was the last weekend as we wouldn't recommend paying the money for this show. Will be writing for some form of refund. Will never do a dinner theatre again.

Didntlikeit

I went to the 1pm show on 8/25. The tall hostess in the tan dress and high heels downgraded me upon seating from a prime floor seat which I was assigned at the door, downgraded to the worst seat way in the back because I was by myself. My table did not have a show program, which I thought wouldn't matter, but the show is all singing and was hard to follow without the program. You get the impression that more food isn't coming and if you want any you should order of the additional ala carte menu which is unnecessary since you get plenty of food. I told the waitress I didnt want anything extra right now (I had not even read the whole menu yet) and she gave me a dirty look then reached inbetween the table to snatch the menu off the seat next to me. I had something on top of it which fell on the floor - it was rude of her, she should ask me to hand it to her and not snatch it. The set design and actors were both great. As I said I had a hard time following the show, as I was far away with no program, and so I was bored by the time intermission and the promised 'Dinner' came. Intermission came, at which time everyone rushes for the port-a-potties. The venue is a pop-up tent, so the bathrooms are also portable. There are not enough bathrooms for the # of people, so the lines were huge. By the time I get back to my table, I see the servers have given every table but mine these white egg shaped rattles. The rattles were to make noise along with the songs of the show. You could clearly see my table had been occupied and there was no reason to not give me an egg rattle also. I asked the first server who came by to bring me one. That server basically ignored me then disappeared. The tall hostess with long hair in the tan dress and high heels (the one who downgraded me) came around to ask if anyone needed anything. I asked her to bring me one of the egg rattles. The hostess told me NO, I cannot have one, it is "Not for this table". Because she is too lazy to bother to get me one she tells me they don't put them on every table. Well I looked and the 20 tables in my sight ALL had them. By now I was pissed off, more at the crappy service than anything. In the meantime, "dinner" was delivered which consisted of scrambled eggs ("fritatta") and raw salmon. That is breakfast, not dinner, and if that's what they eat in Russia then I am never visiting Russia. So anyway I got up and asked a man who looked like he was in charge, (a non-server production person) to please get me one of the egg rattles because by this time I was not putting up with being told I am basically entitled to only lesser crappy service. So this man then sends someone over with scrambled eggs. I did not ask for scrambled eggs, I asked for the egg RATTLE. NOW the person with the scrambled eggs proceeds to tell me I can't have any scrambled eggs because they are a 2 person item and I am only 1 person. So I tell this server I already have scrambled eggs, and they took off before I could even tell them I had asked for something else. Now the second part of the show starts and I just did not want to be there anymore. I got up while the show was in session and left. I would not recommend the show to anyone, the service is absolute SH*T and the show is hard to follow. It might be a good show if they hired servers who actually know how to treat people but I think a theatre company trying to do dinner is biting off more than they can chew.

Annab

I wouldn't know if the final number was a touching, subtle twist or not, because nearly everyone seated with me was talking, passing out from too much wine, fiddling with their champagne magnums, or shaking their shakers (passed out for a previous, more raucous, number). I think the choice to partner with such a trendy, expensive nightclub was a huge mistake: the crowd who came to eat, drink, and be seen were indifferent to the play, and the rest of us were left to suffer. I wish they had revived it in a setting that allowed the immersiveness of the piece while still letting you actually *hear* it. In the meantime I recommend that those who actually like theater go to the matinee, where there may be fewer drunk people talking through it.

D.S.

The best theatrical experience I've had since moving to New York.