“Gonna have to study up a little bit
If you wanna keep up with the plot”
It might seem a little disingenuous to wish that Hamilton had won one more Tony than the eleven it scored but the deserving Philippa Soo stood no chance against the juggernaut that is Cynthia Erivo’s Celie in The Color Purple for the Lead Actress award, despite her name being part of a Beautiful South lyric (Jennifer, Alison…). So I was interested to listen to the only other cast recording I could find with her on it, 2013’s Off-Broadway production of Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
Described as an “electropop” opera (although electropop evidently means something different across the ocean) and with a story filleted from the mid-section of War and Peace (Volume 2, Part 5 to be precise), it’s a rather startling but hugely imaginative piece of writing that folds in musical influences far beyond that descriptor. There’s elements of electro-pop and other contemporary pop sounds including indie rock and they’re somehow combined with Russian folk and classical music in some unholy alliance.
It is effective though – complex and tangled as much musically as lyrically, the score is fiercely demanding but in the way that makes you want to listen to it, I’m on my fourth full run-through and I still keep discovering entirely new facets to the layering of the writing, in some ways it’s a wonder this hasn’t caught on like Hamilton – maybe the forthcoming Broadway run will rectify that… Sadly Soo won’t be with that production (she’s going onto new show Amélie) but it’s glorious getting to hear her tenderly romantic voice here as the conflicted Natasha.
Other standouts are Lucas Steele’s Anatole in all his seductive glory, Brittain Ashford’s Sonya, Amber Gray’s Helene whose ‘Charming’ is superb, and Malloy himself as Pierre, a smaller contribution that one might expect for a title character but you’ll soon see why once you give Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 a good listen or 3 and fall under its strangely compelling spell.