Honestly, it’s hard to find the right superlative to describe Theatre Raleigh’s production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, which landed on Broadway in 2016, garnering 12 Tony nominations and winning two. From the rousing character-intro opening number to the final cosmic-induced illuminating rays, this show, as directed with near perfection by Tim Seib, both captivates and entertains at a whole new level.
David Malloy’s book, music, and lyrics are based on a 70-page story buried in Tolstoy’s sprawling novel, War and Peace. Set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s pending invasion of Russia, the plot revolves around the scandalous behavior of Natasha (Manna Nichols), who is betrothed to a soldier named Andrey (Derek Robinson), who is away fighting on the frontlines. Natasha falls under the spell of a notorious rake, Anatole (Andrew Wade), but when their elopement plans are foiled, the moody intellectual, “bewildered, awkward” Pierre (David Toole) steps in to save Natasha from ruin.
With Seib at the helm of this unparalleled, cabaret-like theatrical experience, the audience is immersed in Benedict Fancy’s set, which allows performers and musicians to roam freely and keeps the action fluid and interactive. An eclectic score masterfully conducted by Joanna Li, along with some fanciful costuming by Malissa Borden and creative lighting by Jenni Becker, completes the spectacle.
And yes, many of the performances are memorable. Nichols fully delivers as Natasha, her voice soaring and endearing. Wade embodies the arrogant self-assured Anatole with a dash of humor and completely sells his seduction of Natasha. Toole keeps a tight rein on the emotional despair and frustrations of Pierre, while Micaela Shanyce Bundy commands the stage with her vocal prowess as Natasha’s godmother. Probably the most fun was watching Tedd Szeto playing the fiddle while singing and dancing as the spirited troika driver, Balaga.
Undeniably, this melodramatic musical (some dub it an opera since all but one line of dialogue are sung) is a visual and aural feast. The overall effect is akin to having spent an exhilarating night in a funky bar minus the hangover.
Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812 runs through Sunday. For more information visit https://theatreraleigh.com/.