(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/29; via Pam Green.)
“Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” is closing on Broadway after a racially charged and distinctly contemporary conflagration. CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times
The young, flamboyant and unusually diverse collective of actors and musicians who brought “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” to Broadway enjoyed the giddy highs of theater’s most glamorous perch — a run at the grand Imperial Theater, a season-topping 12 Tony nominations, a spotlight shared with the pop star Josh Groban.
For most of the performers, it was their first time on a Broadway stage. Costumed as punkified peasants and aristocrats in a bold musical adaptation of Tolstoy, they danced down the aisles, handing out pierogies and creating an unusually immersive musical experience.
Now they are seeing the sharp edge of Broadway. The show is collapsing after a conflagration that was racially charged and distinctly contemporary: a social media uproar prompted by the financially motivated decision to bring in a white actor to replace a black actor who had succeeded a white actor.
The result: Investors will lose most of the production’s $14 million capitalization, and more than 100 people will be out of jobs after the final performance on Sunday.
Even in a flop-prone industry, the sudden crash of the musical stands out, reflecting competing challenges for commercial theater: the benefits of star power, the hunger for diversity and the high costs of producing on Broadway. Add in Twitter, and things can get messy.