War and Peace Characters Come to New York

(Photo from Kazino by Chad Batka)

(Photo from Kazino by Chad Batka)

The main heroes of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – Natasha Rostova, her cousin Sonia, Pierre Bezukhov, Anatole Kuragin and other representatives of Russian elite from the times of the Patriotic War of 1812 – are now here to meet you… in Manhattan.

We are talking about the musical Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 at the cabaret-style venue Kazino at 259 W 45th Street, in the heart of the Theater District of New York City. The reason for the recent moving of the show [from the meatpacking district] is, apparently, the indisputable success of Dave Molloy’s electro-pop opera. This performance is still considered off-Broadway, but it is certainly on its way to the top ten best Broadway musicals.

The creators of the play – producers Howard and Janet Kagan, director Rachel Chavkin, and choreographer Sam Pinkleton – made sure that the viewer is fully engaged with the action. The heroes move easily and often across the cabaret, staying in direct contact with the audience. Sometimes they even sit down beside a guest by the table, clinking glasses. Separate groups of the orchestra are also located in different parts of the hall, and it is a wonder how the music director of the play, Or Matias, can manage all of the musicians to stay on the same note throughout this dynamic composition. In particular, how the sounds of the instruments, which actors play from time to time, stay in tune. During the show Pierre plays accordion and piano, Anatole violin, and Dolokhov guitar.

The walls, draped in crimson velvet, are covered with reproductions of paintings by Russian artists, and with one by French artist Jacques-Louis David: his famous portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte. The costume designer, Paloma Young, clothed protagonists in dresses and uniforms from the historical era, with a slight punk touch. Echoes of the battle are not very visible in this play, the war is somewhere behind the scenes, and in the frame there are love and hate, friendship and enmity, and dances and feasts.

Young talented actors of a musical theater, equally good at playing drama as in playing music, create independent, finished images of the main characters: Phillipa Soo (Natasha), David Abeles (Pierre), Grace McLean (Marya D), Amber Grey (Hélène), Lucas Steele (Anatole), and others. Here the crucial role belongs to the beautiful music of arias, duets, ensembles, and instrumental episodes, created by Malloy. The composer had a very difficult task: to unite the established elements of the structure of a modern Broadway musical and the various shades of Russian music, avoiding its direct citation or stylization. For Malloy, it’s not the first time creating an excellent musical. He is the author of several well-known musicals, and a winner of numerous awards. He is predicted to be as popular as the standard-setter for the genre, Stephen Sondheim.

At a press conference producer Howard Kagan (the winner of the 2012 Tony Award for the Broadway show “Porgy and Bess”) said that he initially wanted to work with Malloy and that it was Malloy who proposed collaboration on War and Peace – the novel in which, he believes, the story of the great love is unfolded brilliantly. Malloy also wrote the libretto for this electro-pop opera. But before writing the music and libretto, he spent some time in Moscow, getting acquainted with the Russian capital in its musical institutions and clubs.

In the musical, only once Pierre switches from vocals to monologue (which creates a strong effect). He tells Natasha that if he were young, handsome, and free, he would propose to her on his knees. Later, when a comet – a forerunner of misfortune – speeds through the skies, and the audience, as if hypnotized, gazes at the ceiling to the lit chandelier, Pierre sings about the mystery of human relationships. Realizing that resisting love for Natasha makes him love her even more, Pierre is struck by a new discovery. Compassion for another person can bring as much happiness as can the fulfillment of his own strongest desires.

There is no doubt that the play will have a long and happy tomorrow.

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