(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/14.)
The Imperial Theater, where the rapturous musical “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” blazed opened on Monday night, has never looked more imperial — or felt more intimate. Who would have guessed that Dave Malloy’s gorgeous pop opera, adapted from a slice of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” would land on Broadway with all its signal virtues intact, and in some ways heightened?
After all, it was born four years ago in the shoe box of Ars Nova, one of the most adventurous Off Broadway companies, before moving into a specially built cabaret-style space in the meatpacking district. I’ll cop to some trepidation about its arrival in a traditional proscenium theater.
Could the show, essentially a chamber opera with a small chorus, retain its emotional potency in a house that seats more than a thousand people? Would the immersive staging, including plentiful frisky interaction between performers and the audience, be jettisoned? Was the casting of the glossy pop star Josh Groban in the role of Pierre, a gloomy and none-too-dashing aristocrat, merely a cynical move to sell tickets?