Last week I had the pleasure of taking in "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" in its new uptown location. I sort of had no idea what I was going in to see; I knew it was based on a section of War and Peace, a book I will probably never pick up, but other than that I walked in unaware of much beyond the great word of mouth I'd generally heard.
The story isn't really the important part compared to the immersive atmosphere, but it mostly centers around Natasha, a young Russian girl who finds herself smitten with another man while her fiancée is off fighting in a war. The story is told in a Russian café setting where you can order food and drinks before the show and during intermission, and the atmosphere, costumes, and music all skillfully employ that thing where one foot is grounded in 1812 and the other foot in modern day setting.
This was one of those shows I truly enjoyed despite myself. The lyrics don't even attempt to rhyme or hit any recognizable meter, as if an untouched translation forced to fit uncomfortably in music, occasionally making much of the words hard to discern. But the music is wonderful and evocative of the time period without being cliche or pastiche! The entire character of Pierre barely deserved to be in the title as he was almost a nonentity. But the atmosphere was fantastic and rich! Pierre could have had more time for an arc to be developed if some minor characters were cut, as they were not as much fun as the prologue advertised they'd be. But look, your waiter brought you some pirogies! You love pirogies! I imagine that future "traditional" stage productions of the show may not fare quite as well as what elevates the show to worthwhile is the truly stunning production and atmosphere.
The show might be worth seeing just for the rousing prologue alone. Aware that the Russian source material is teeming with characters who are difficult to keep track of, each one is hilariously introduced through an opening number that occasionally assures you that if you get lost, your program's relationship diagram will get you back on track. It's like an Ahrens and Flaherty opening if they had traded sentimentality for sarcasm, and it's brilliant. I wish that sort of focus had been afforded to some other parts of the show, but nonetheless it remains a wonderful evening and I recommend seeing it quickly before it closes, which I've heard rumors of....