The cell phone smash heard 'round the world was, all things considered, pretty good press for the off-Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Critics had already embraced the show days before Kevin Williamson tossed a rude theatergoer's phone into history, but it never hurts to have a Very Viral Story spreading the word (our first post alone got over 30,000 Facebook "likes"... nbd). Still, the act of one courageous vigilante shouldn't overshadow the fact that this is a very entertaining show, and one we highly recommend.
The immersive, raucous spectacle unfolds inside a specially-built cabaret tent across the street from the Standard High Line in the Meatpacking District. At $125, tickets aren't cheap, but admission includes a full Russian-style dinner (menu here) and a complimentary cocktail. It's true that dinner theater can be a depressing geriatric nightmare, but director Rachel Chavkin smartly cuts off service before the performance begins, so nobody's eating or flagging down waiters during the show. You can order a carafe of vodka before each act, but once the lights go down, the only distractions are those you bring with you.
Mimi Lien's set design, as you can see here, is marvelous, with no real distinction between where the audience ends and the show begins. The fast-paced, entropic action takes place all around you, so there's really not a bad table in the tent, and the intimate setting makes it easy for the actors to weave their mesmerizing spell. The show itself is a breezy distillation of just one section of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, set to an eclectic score by writer Dave Malloy. The melodramatic plot points are wittily boiled down to their essentials, which are gleefully summarized in the show's high-energy opening number, sung by the ensemble in ironic-didactic unison: "Hélène is a slut / Anatole is hot / Mary is old school / Sonya is good / Natasha is young / And Andrey isn’t here."
The music never stops in Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812, but it does vary widely, from rollicking crescendos of passion and fury to forlorn ballads of war-torn desperation. Even if you haven't read the book, it's easy to follow along, and Chavkin never misses a chance to deflate the perceived pomposity Classic Literature. A handy supplement in the program also summarizes the thwarted lusts and drunken catastrophes that explode along the way, but even if you do find yourself losing the thread of all this melodrama, it doesn't really matter. The superlative cast is spinning a spellbinding musical fantasia inches from your nose; all you have to do is look up from your iPhone.
Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 continues through September 1st. Tickets here.