In the restaurant world, great atmosphere often substitutes for the need to serve great food. Fortunately, theatergoers visiting Kazino, the lavishly decorated 6,000-square-foot supper club that has been specifically created by impresarios Simon Hammerstein and Randy Weiner for the remounting of Dave Malloy’s innovative musical Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 need not worry about making similar trade-offs. The space, a 19th century-inspired fantasy embellished in red and gold by designer Mimi Lien, is spectacular. The show, which runs nearly three hours, is mesmerizing. And the food, a hearty Russian-styled feast that precedes the performance, is more than good enough.
Still, you’ll always be sure of what’s going on since Malloy, who crafted both the moving book and the eclectic pop-opera score, has actually done a remarkable job of condensing Leo Tolstoy’s seminal novel War and Peace. The focus here is on the ill-fated love affair between the beautiful, naive countess Natasha Rostova (Phillipa Soo) and the dashing, slightly amoral soldier Anatole (the dreamy Lucas Steele). While Natasha heedlessly breaks off her engagement to Prince Andrey (Blake DeLong) to be with Anatole, their hasty elopement is ultimately prevented by Natasha’s sensible cousin Sonya (Brittain Ashford) and godmother Marya (the excellent Grace McLean) after they learn he is already married.
The musical might even be more effective had it ended at that moment, before refocusing on the plight of Anatole’s sulky brother-in-law Pierre (played by Malloy). Unhappily married to Anatole’s sister, the hedonistic Hélène (the sensual Amber Gray), Pierre finally discovers a new attitude toward life and love after witnessing the Great Comet. But since he has seemed a minor player in this romantic drama (unlike in the novel), this quasi-epilogue seems unnecessary.
However, Malloy’s greatest musical triumphs may be his witty, infectious group numbers, such as the “Prologue” that lays out how everyone in the story is related to everyone else, the delicious act-two opener, “Letters,” and the raucous sequence celebrating carriage-driver Balaga (Paul Pinto), who is charged with helping Anatole and Natasha escape Moscow. In these songs, as well as throughout the show, the superb eight-piece band and spirited ensemble lend exceptional support.
While Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 is hardly a traditional theatergoing experience, heading to Kazino for the evening proves to be a rare gamble that pays off big!