Saturday, November 2, 2013


Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is a new musical that, when described, sounds like one of the most bizarre shows ever. Categorized as an 'electro pop opera', this site-specific theatre piece based on Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace is performed in a cabaret where an unknown cast of actors perform the story around the tables of guests while they enjoy a meal consisting of popular Russian food and drink. Composer Dave Malloy wrote this two-hour opera, but don't expect typical opera fare from this music. In fact, don't expect to have heard anything quite like this before. Ever.

Mr. Malloy, who also performs on the album as Pierre with captivating success, has crafted one of the most original and, yes, best scores in recent memory. The songs have roots in Russian folk music sensibilities, pop, rock, and delicious electronic dance beats, but it feels unfair to so tightly categorize a score so strikingly unique. This work is so innovative musically that it almost feels like it was written 10 years from now... and trust me, this is a very, very good thing. The clever, economical, and humorously blunt Prologue sets the scene and establishes the relationships of the characters taken from Tolstoy's dense novel. And after that, hold on to your hat. This gaudy and catchy music excites, provokes, invigorates, and, unexpectedly, moves deeply. When the pounding percussive orchestrations aren't hitting you in the gut, the music hits just as hard in the heart, particularly the emotionally potent finale 'The Great Comet of 1812'.

And what makes it all even better is a uniformly excellent cast of unknown actors and singers who tear this music apart in the best possible way. Standouts include the sensitive, earthy vocal performance by Brittain Ashford as Sonya, who sounds like she'd be just as at home in an indie folk band. Her Act II aria 'Sonya Alone' is a gentle ballad that is a welcomed break from the exhilaratingly bombastic music surrounding it, especially because Ashford's performance is such a treat for the ears. Phillipa Soo's Natasha is a revelation, her crystal clear, versatile, and powerful voice soaring every time she makes an appearance, particularly on the beautiful 'Natasha Lost'. And just as riveting is the performance by Grace McLean as Marya D. whose rough-edged voice lends a stunning amount of power to songs like the forceful and rhythmic 'In My House' and the catchy and colourful 'Moscow'. But the entire cast is just as terrific, and they find enormous play in thrilling songs such as 'The Opera', 'Balaga', and 'The Duel'.

At the long two-hour running time, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 breezes by and you'll want to replay the whole thing over again immediately. It's wholly satisfying, consistently exciting, and remarkably innovative. Dave Malloy's music is a revelation and we are lucky to have the excellent Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records to immortalize it.

Get this album, for the love of god.

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