One of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had.
Last year I read War & Peace. It was a gargantuan undertaking for a slow reader like myself, but frankly it’s well worth the effort. There’s a reason it’s considered one of the best books ever written.
Truth be told, I became somewhat obsessed with it for a while. Timing had a lot to do with it; at the same time I was reading the novel, I learned about a recent off-broadway musical based on a short section of the book, and between reading and listening, my arts & culture brain was pretty preoccupied there for a few months steady.
I felt like I had been cheated, though. I missed the show (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) in its off-broadway run.
You can get a sense of the staging in this photo. There is cabaret seating in the main performance area and the players regularly move into what would be the orchestra and mezzanine sections of a standard proscenium theatre.
The show features a really well-composed score. It’s quite different in tone from most musicals. It’s generally described, in reviews, as an electro-pop opera. In any case, it’s not your average musical. It doesn’t have a series of big musical show-stoppers. The music is more integrated than that. For that reason, I never expected it to make the transfer to Broadway. I simply chalked it up as yet another outstanding show that I missed because I don’t live in NYC. There have been plenty like that…and there will be plenty more. At least it had a cast album that I could enjoy.
But as luck would have it, someone with star power was also taken with The Great Comet: Josh Groban. It was announced late last year that he would use the show as a vehicle to make his own Broadway debut. There was hope yet that I would get to see this show!
After months of waiting for an announcement of ticket sales, and then several more months waiting for the production to see its first performances, I finally got to see the show this month. It was magical.
Groban is a serious standout. His acting was good, but his singing is utterly remarkable. I’m beginning to understand why he has such a following.
This show is bold and different. The theatre space has been creatively reimagined, and the performance takes place throughout the space, with audience, actors and musicians all occupying the same space. It’s such an immersive experience. To be fair, this show is not not something you can sit back and passively enjoy; it’s not just a bit of mindless fun. To enjoy this musical, the audience needs to engage. This is what theatre SHOULD be about.
And you know, I have to give major props to Groban. I’ve never been a big fan, but his voice is spectacular. And he’s matched in talent by his fellow castmates. His performance of Dust & Ashes (a new number written for this production) left me with chills.
I hope this show is recognized for its genius. The reviews so far have been glowing. It’s the first musical I’ve seen since Hamilton that didn’t make me think, “well, that was good, but it was no Hamilton.”
And it has reignited my obsession with the source material!
Highly recommend watching the BBC mini-series released last year. It’s a really faithful adaptation.
The good news is, I don’t HAVE to re-read the novel. I’ve been saving last year’s BBC mini-series adaptation, and I finally find myself keen to watch it. I’m almost through the 6-hour production, and while I don’t know whether the final part will do the book justice, the first 5 have been spectacular. This is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the novel. Yes, some things have been cut or modified, but the storytelling here is excellent, and it’s matched by absolutely brilliant performances by Lily James and especially by Paul Dano.
If you get a chance to see it, don’t miss out.
Of course, I also recommend the musical (which would require you to travel to NYC) and the novel (a commitment, to say the least). Let’s be honest – a 6-hour mini-series seems the most manageable of the three.
Anyway, here I am obsessing again. So much so in fact that I’m actually considering re-reading the novel. No, I don’t really have the time. Maybe I’ll just re-read a few key passages. Besides, I’m sort of obsessing over Wuthering Heights too, which I read in high school and am now re-reading 25 years later, with fresh eyes. Sadly, I don’t think there are any well-respected film adaptations of that one.