Through Sun 10/8
Sunday afternoon, Great Lakes Theater’s spectacular Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 proved me wrong, but in a good way. In 2017, before Covid shut Broadway down, I was lucky enough to see its lavish Broadway production.
I thought “I’d love to see this again, but it would be impossible to recreate locally.” Silly me. Little did I know. I’m delighted to report, I was wrong wrong, wrong.
This Great Lakes Theater version of Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812, an electropop opera written by Dave Malloy and directed by Victoria Bussert, is in several ways even better than the Broadway show. A big part of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is its power to pull us into the action, into the party, and into the story. The Hanna Theatre excels in doing just that.
One way we are drawn in is thanks to the set designed by Jeff Herrmann. Classic sofas, desks and chairs set against glittering red and gold walls create a posh 19th-century vibe that screams “money.” In addition, Herrmann’s use of the stage’s close proximity invites communication between audience and actors.
The musical turns a short section of Tolstoy’s epic novel, War and Peace, into something of a rom-com. The lovely young Natasha (Jessi Kirtley) gets her heart broken and learns the danger of infatuation and impulsive crushes. Kirtley, as Natasha, seems the perfect little rich girl as she waits for her fiancé (Cole Burden) to return from Russia’s war with France. (Napoleon has not yet learned that invading Russia in winter is a very bad idea).
She’s perfect that is, until Anatole appears. It’s easy to see why she’s tempted when the devastatingly handsome Anatole (played by the devastatingly handsome Chris McCarrell) enters the story. McCarrell’s entrance, surrounded by steamy smoke, is that of a rock star and Natasha falls hard.
The other featured character, Pierre (a thoughtful Alex Syiek), spends his time writing, playing musical instrumentsand being unhappy. His wife, the promiscuous shrew Helene (played with wit and sexy humor by Jillian Kates) makes his life miserable. Syiek convinces us that not only does Pierre need and deserve a purpose in life, but that heavenly intervention brings it about. (Yes, that event is a true one. The real Great Comet was visible without a telescope for almost a year in 1811 and 1812.)
The large cast brings life to each quirky character. If one is tempted to believe women were weak in this era, Jodi Dominick’s Marya, a woman who excelled at laying down the law, demonstrates the opposite.
Other ensemble members also offered impressive performances. Dario Alvarez (Dolokhov), Camille Brooks (Mary), Alexa Lopez (Sonya), and Boe Wank (Balaga) brought life to their characters. Rounding out the ensemble, and contributing to the fun (especially the closing party scenes), were Danny Bó, Shelby Griswold, Benjamin Michael Hall, Jaedynn Latter, Praise Oranika, Bella Serrano, and Ángela Utrera.
Matthew Webb conducted a small off-stage ensemble that rocked the musical’s mix of Russian folk, classical music and contemporary pop. By show’s end, folks were dancing in the aisles. (OK, not quite, but we hated to see the party end.)
Other credits should go to costume designer Tesia Dugan Benson (especially for Natasha’s little white gowns and Anatole’s silver jacket), lighting designer Trad A. Burns, and choreographer Jaclyn Miller (so many partiers all over the place — good job).
BOTTOM LINE: This is a fabulous production and a must-see show. If you see only one show a year, let it be this one. Tolstoy never had it so good.
Get more information and tickets at greatlakestheater/natasha-pierre-the-great-comet-of-1812.
[Written by Laura Kennelly]