Who needs Bridgerton when you have fantastic live theater just around the corner? Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, (Dave Malloy, 2012) is a high-energy musical based loosely on an excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace. It offers an engaging storyline, top-tier vocals and show-stopping choreography. And Riverside Theatre’s run has officially sold out.
“Prologue” offers just a taste of what is to come, both musically and conceptually, in this two and half hour show. The characters introduce themselves to help orient the audience members not only to their names but also to how this show is cleverly staged. Director Chris Okiishi has designed an immersive experience for theater-goers as the stage is, quite literally, the whole theater. The cast acts, dances and sits among the audience; you will find yourself watching the whole room as the action unfolds.
Niyati Deshpande dazzles as the ingenue Natasha. Her vocals and acting are consistently beautiful. Her faithful cousin, Sonya (Anna Novak), not only sings, dances and advises Natasha, she also plays the accordion throughout the show. Natasha is betrothed to Andrei (Robert Kemp) who is away at war, and Natasha finds herself caught up in Moscow society, which includes the handsome Anatole (Tyler Jensen). As society moves around them, Natasha and Anatole begin a love affair.
As Pierre, Patrick Dulaney embodies the Russian tendency toward philosophizing and desperation as war is imminent. Mia Gimenez plays Pierre’s unfaithful wife artfully as she moves through her own love affairs as well as playing a key role in Natasha and Anatole’s tryst.
The choreography by Leslie Nolte and the music direction by Jason Sifford combine to exciting effect throughout the show. Riverside’s new location is not a large space, and the precision with which the entire show moves is outstanding. Whether the characters are drinking at the club or taking a troika ride through Moscow, the audience was spell-bound. In the end, possibilities are renewed as the comet of 1812 lights up the sky.