Theatre / Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/natashapierrecast_4078.jpg
L-R: Anatole (hot), Hélène (slut), Natasha (young), Andrey (who is here, for once), dear, bewildered and awkward Pierre.

"There's a war goin' on out there somewhere
And Andrey isn't here..."
Prologue

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is a 2012 "electro-pop opera" by Dave Malloy, based on Volume 2, Book 5 of Tolstoy's War and Peace. It is something of a coming of age story for the titular Natasha, who finds herself in an unexpected affair with the dashing Anatole Kuragin while waiting for her fiancé Andrey Bolkonsky to return from war. Anatole's sister Hélène finds the whole situation very amusing and helps facilitate Natasha's loss of innocence, while her own husband Pierre realizes he is Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life. Despite adapting only a very narrow slice of the doorstopper it's based on, it manages to stand on its own as a story.

Notably, the show isn't performed in a traditional theater, but rather a custom-built nightclub, with the action moving around, through, and occasionally with the audience. It also is a true sung-through opera, with a musical style that's pretty much Hair meets Cabaret meets Repo! The Genetic Opera with a dash of modern folk to taste.

This musical contains examples of:

  • 100% Adoration Rating:
    • Natasha. "Everyone's always liked me!" Subverted as the show goes on — Mary doesn't like her at first, and Helene doesn't at all. And the incident with Anatole nearly wrecks her reputation in the eyes of everyone in Moscow.
    • Everyone seems to like Pierre. Besides Helene.
  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Natasha waits for Andrey to return home from the war, but gradually forgets about him as she gets more and more involved with Anatole.
  • Abusive Parents: Old Prince Bolkonsky towards Princess Mary, of the emotional/psychological and possibly physical variety.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Natasha and Andrey's separation is mentioned as Andrey being away at war, because this is simpler than the novel's explanationnote  and works for the story's purpose.
  • Adaptation Expansion: It's a full-length musical, but its source material covers only a very small slice of War and Peace - think roughly forty-nine pages at the tail end of Volume Two, out of a 1359 page edition.
  • Adorkable: Dear, bewildered and awkward Pierre.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Specifically, of a segment of War and Peace.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Going off of Hélène's example, Pierre assumes this is the case when he finds out about Natasha's broken engagement. Once he finds out she did it out of shame for her entanglement with Anatole, however, he immediately redirects his anger toward Anatole.
  • Alto Villainess: Played straight with Hélène, but averted with Marya, who, though she has her moments of anger, is far from a bad person.
  • Anachronism Stew: The club Anatole, Dolokhov, Pierre, and Hélène attend is staged as a modern rave, with strobe lights, glowbands, the works. Not to mention Anatole's Anime Hair.
  • Anger Born of Worry: "In My House" is Marya D. shouting at Natasha and calling her a hussy — because she's justifiably concerned about her and what would have happened if they'd managed to elope.
  • Audience Participation: Audience members seated on the stage are given shot glasses (filled with water) during "The Duel" and "The Abduction", and egg shakers are given out to the entire audience during "Balaga".
  • Author Avatar: Pierre is a weird example. Dave Malloy didn't create the original character, but for the first run of the show, he played the part himself, and it feels written for him in many ways.
  • Awful Wedded Life:
    • Pierre and Hélène, to the point that he's described as "Rich, unhappily married Pierre" in his introduction. They don't get along at all and she's blatantly cheating on him with Dolokhov. Later in the play he admits he'd rather be married to Natasha.
    • Anatole would rather pretend his wife doesn't exist, since their marriage is the result of a dalliance followed up by a Shotgun Wedding. Few people even know he's married.
  • Badass Bookworm: Pierre prefers reading at home than going to social events. That said, he wounds Dolokhov in duel and terrifies Anatole into leaving Moscow for good.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man: Hélène tries to manipulate Natasha into this.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: "Dear, bewildered and awkward Pierre" is a force to be reckoned with once you've finally managed to make him mad.
    Pierre: "My face, already pale, becomes distorted by fury/I take you by the collar with my big, big hands/and I shake you back and forth until your face shows a sufficient degree of terror."
  • Big Damn Heroes: Pierre, after learning from Marya what happened, tracks down Anatole and threatens him into a) giving up all the love letters Natasha sent him, and b) leaving Moscow at once. In doing so he saves Natasha's reputation and quite possibly Andrey's life, since otherwise Andrey would surely have challenged Anatole to a duel.
  • Big "WHAT?!": In "A Call to Pierre", Marya lists everything that's happened and Pierre responds with an increasingly louder "what?" each time, until:
    Marya D: Natasha and Anatole Kuragin!
    Pierre: WHAT?
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Andrey, of all people, is implied to be this. Not being able to forgive Natasha for her infidelity isn't necessarily wrong, but even he himself admits a good man would forgive her. Pierre notices that "he smiled like his father, coldly, maliciously". Those who've read the book know he does eventually forgive her, however.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Natasha is still languishing from her suicide attempt and has had to break off her engagement to Andrey, along with realizing that Anatole was only using her. But Pierre helps her to regain a sense of self-worth, reassures her that she deserves to be loved and admits that he himself would propose to her on the spot if he weren't married to Hélène — and, in his recognition of that love, comes to find new joy and meaning in his own life, symbolised by the brightness of the comet. Plus those who have read the book know that Natasha and Pierre will eventually be Happily Married.
  • Break the Cutie: What happens to Natasha, courtesy of Anatole's loose affections. She starts the musical as The Ingenue, ends it recuperating from a suicide attempt.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: All over the place, beginning as early as the prologue:
    "This is all in your program/You are at the opera/Gonna have to study up a little bit/If you wanna keep with the plot/'Cause it's a complicated Russian novel/Everyone's got nine different names..."
    • During the song "Letters", cast members sometimes give audience members notes of their own.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Never outright stated, but heavily, heavily implied between Anatole and Hélène. Pierre makes an indirect dig at Anatole about it.
    Pierre: Amuse yourself with women like my wife.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Hélène freely and gladly helps Anatole in his planned conquest of Natasha.
  • B.S.O.D. Song: "Dust and Ashes" Having just dueled Dolokhov, Pierre questions what his life has become, if there is even anything left for him, and whether he'll ever find the love in his life he so desperately desires.
  • The Casanova: Anatole, who seduces another man's fiancee despite being married himself. He's even introduced as spending his money on "women and wine."
  • Comet of Doom: Averted. Pierre notes in the finale that the comet, which usual portends the end of the world, instead helps bring him to a new sense of life. Also, a bit of historical inaccuracy, as the "Great Comet" of the title was mostly prevalent in 1811, not 1812.
  • Composite Character: In the novel, Pierre's second during his duel with Dolokhov is Nikolai, Natasha's brother. This role is given to Anatole in the musical.
  • Declaration of Protection: "Sonya Alone", in which Sonya vows to do whatever she can to save Natasha from ruin and heartbreak.
    I will stand in the dark for you
    I will hold you back by force
    I will stand here right outside your door
    I won’t see you disgraced
  • Defiled Forever: Sonya and Marya D. are extremely concerned about what will happen to Natasha's reputation if her affair with Anatole is discovered. And they were right to be worried. Pierre has to do some damage control in the middle of his search for Anatole, reassuring gossipers that nothing happened, Andrey refuses to forgive her, and Natasha becomes convinced that her life is over — though Pierre comforts her by saying he'd marry her if he weren't already married.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: An unusual example. Toward the end of the show, Pierre awkwardly confesses that if he weren't married to Hélène — and if he felt that he were good enough — he would propose to Natasha himself. Natasha is intensely touched and grateful, but nothing further happens between them. However, if you've read the book, you know that they will eventually be Happily Married.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Natasha and Anatole's plan to elope. On Anatole's side, it's technically bigamy, which could legitimately put him in jail during this time period, as well as potentially a breach of promise, leading Natasha on when he never truly intended to marry her. On Natasha's side, if she just up and vanishes, her family will go into a panic looking for her, her father will probably challenge Anatole to a duel, and they'll all be tainted by her disgrace. Dolokhov and Marya D. both attempt to point these things out, but Anatole doesn't care and Natasha is too angry to listen.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Marya D. (as played by Grace McLean) begins her scolding of Natasha during "In My House" with a smile on her face, albeit one that looks like she's speaking through clenched teeth.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: Hélène removes Natasha's necklace (a parting gift from Andrey) during "Charming".
  • Driven to Suicide: Poor Natasha, after losing both of her lovers, swallows some arsenic. She survives, though, and by the end of the show she's regained a little hope for the future.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Balaga, the famous troika driver.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Pierre at the rave.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Bolkonskys, comprising a senile father, a put-upon sister, and Andrey himself.
    Andrey's family, totally messed up.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Likely more out of social humiliation than actual concern for a husband she loathes, but Helene is vocally displeased with her husband recklessly igniting a duel between him and Dolohov. She does screams a Big "NO!" when Dolohov seemingly kills him.
    • Inverted. Andrey acknowledges that it would be generous and noble to forgive Natasha and take her back, but he's not that good a man.
    • Mary doesn't like Natasha much, but she's utterly appalled at how Prince Bolkonsky treats her when she comes for a visit. Mary at least tries to be polite, and attempts to be friendly towards Natasha to make up for her father's behavior.
  • Evil Old Folks: Old Prince Bolkonsky may not be strictly speaking evil, but he is nasty, unpleasant, and abusive towards his daughter.
  • Exact Words: When Pierre is trying to get Andrey to resume his engagement with Natasha:
    Pierre: You told me once a fallen woman should be forgiven.
    Andrey: But I didn't say that I could forgive.
  • Fiery Redhead: Played with in the case of Sonya (when played by Brittain Ashford), who, though generally even-tempered, has a great deal of determination and inner strength. Played straight with the hot-tempered Marya D. (when played by Grace McLean).
  • The Ghost: Andrey for most of the play, though he does finally turn up after Natasha's attempted suicide.
    • Slightly averted in the staging, as Andrey makes several minor appearances throughout the show; reading Natasha's letter in "No One Else", appearing as one of the actors in "The Opera" (and getting disemboweled in the process), and showing up to the party in "The Abduction".
  • Gratuitous Russian: For the most part, averted, even though all of the characters are Russian. There are a few Bilingual Bonus moments, such as in Hélène's number, or Pierre's toast during the abduction.
  • Hate at First Sight: Not quite hate, but Natasha and Mary immediately dislike each other upon meeting, though Mary later partially mends up bad first impressions through an apologetic letter.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Pierre, from time to time.
  • Hero of Another Story: Andrey, who is one of the major protagonists in War and Peace, yet is quite out of focus here, given the setting of the story.
  • Informed Attribute:
    • Due to all the direct quoting from Tolstoy, we're repeatedly reminded of how fat Pierre is. David Abeles is stocky at most. Scott Stangland is equally fit, as is Josh Groban. All wore fat suits for the role.
    • Also, Dolokhov is introduced as "Anatole's friend, a crazy good shot," and introduced at the Opera as "the Assassin." The only time he fires a gun — at Pierre, during The Duel — he misses.
    • Likewise, Hélène is introduced as "a slut", but Dolokhov is the only lover of hers seen in the show — although she does encourage licentiousness in Natasha, by pushing her to go after Anatole. Also, during the "Chaos" section of "The Abduction", at one point, she starts making out with Marya.
  • The Ingenue: Natasha, like in the novel. She's hopelessly in love with Andrey and easily believes Anatole and Helene have her best intentions in mind.
  • It's All About Me: Anatole. When Pierre lays down his "The Reason You Suck" Speech, pointing out how badly he hurt Natasha for the sake of a fling, Anatole's only reaction is to say that it wasn't his fault and demand Pierre apologize for calling him a scoundrel.
  • It Amused Me: Helene enables Anatole's seduction of Natasha despite knowing that he's married and she's engaged because it's fun.
  • Love at First Sight: Natasha falls hard for Anatole the moment she sees him. It doesn't end well.
  • Love Epiphany: During "Pierre and Natasha", Pierre realises that he is in love with Natasha, and confesses that if he weren't already married and worthy of her, he'd gladly marry her. The whole thing is emphasised by the music ceasing and Pierre speaking, not singing, the words.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Natasha catches a major case of this. Not once does she think that perhaps there's a shady reason for a young man in reasonably good social standing to want to elope with her, rather than courting her legitimately. Sonya and Marya D. both point out that something must be up, but she insists that Anatole has good reasons. She doesn't know what they are, but they're good! (Anatole, for his part, only escapes this by virtue of not actually being in love with her.)
  • Meet the In-Laws: "Natasha & Bolkonskys" is all about this, and the meeting doesn't go very well. Natasha and Mary dislike each other on sight, and Old Prince Bolkonsky is incredibly rude and nasty to his future daughter-in-law.
  • Memetic Badass: In-universe, Dolokhov. At the opera, he's called "The Assassin".
  • Minor Character, Major Song: Indeed, Balaga's just for fun. The Bolkonskys too.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • It's implied that Pierre feels awful about vocally condoning Anatole's elopement, dismissing it off as him just having harmless fun, and harshly judging Natasha.
    • Once her relationship with Anatole implodes and she learns he was only leading her on and never had any intention of marrying her, Natasha becomes horribly ashamed of herself for cheating on Andrey and throwing away their future together.
    Natasha: But still I'm tormented/By the wrongs I've done him/Tell him that I beg him to forgive/Forgive/Forgive me for everything
  • Never Trust a Title: You'd expect from the title that Pierre would take as active a role in the story as Natasha, but aside from the visit to the club and the duel with Dolokhov he's mostly lounging around in the orchestra pit until the plot really picks up in Act II. (Though he still gets some pretty good songs.) The Great Comet also doesn't become important until literally the last few minutes of the show, as Pierre sees it as a symbol of his new realisation of the joy in life.
  • Nice Guy: Pierre is a total sweetheart, especially when he shows desperately-needed compassion and kindness to Natasha in "Pierre and Natasha".
  • No Song for the Wicked: A bizarre example with Anatole, Dolokhov and Helene. While the men are featured in many songs (and discussed in even more), they have no solo songs. Then again, while the two cause most of the show's problems, neither is truly evil. Anatole doesn't actively intend to hurt anyone, and Dolokhov briefly tries to talk Anatole out of his elopement. Meanwhile Helene, the one character with malicious intent, does get her own Villain Song.
  • Number of the Beast: "It is Napoleon! Six hundred, three-score and six!" says Pierre, after studying the cabal.
  • Obliviously Evil: Anatole doesn't actually mean to hurt any of the people that he injures — he's just so completely thoughtless he doesn't consider how his actions impact other people. However, played with in that he is deliberately thoughtless. "Don't speak to me of that!" is practically his catchphrase whenever someone tries to tell him about the consequences of his actions.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Natasha's first meeting with her fiance's family goes very poorly. Their nasty treatment of her is one of the reasons she grows more attracted to Anatole.
  • Oh, Crap!: "A Call to Pierre" is Marya D. and Pierre both having these as they share information and realize just how badly things have gone wrong with Natasha and Anatole.
  • One Steve Limit: Enforced, unlike in the novel. Andrey's sister is referred to as Princess Mary (with American pronunciation), while Natasha's godmother is called Marya Dmtriyevna (or Marya D. for short, with Marya pronounced as "MAHR-ya").
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: You'd be forgiven for not knowing that Hélène and Pierre are actually Elena and Peter. (Natasha does call him "Peter" in "Pierre and Natasha", but he tells her she can use his nickname.)
  • Only Sane Man: A bit of an inversion; everyone is sane except for Natasha and Anatole, who both firmly believe that the elopement scheme will be pulled off. Used in a more straightforward manner when Sonya is this to Natasha in "Sonya and Natasha" and Dolokhov acts as this to Anatole in "Preparations."
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The only lines in the musical which aren't sung are when Pierre confesses his love for Natasha. Even the music stops.
  • Patter Song: "Preparations," although it substitutes the comedy of most patter songs for menace.
  • Playing Cyrano: Played with. Anatole is no shrinking violet, but he does have Dolokhov write his love-letters for him.
  • Post-Modernism: In addition to all the anachronisms mentioned above, there's the fact that so much of the libretto is directly taken from War and Peace, which means that in many cases the characters are singing Tolstoy's narration about themselves as they act it out, just with the pronouns changed (resulting in a kind of Tropes Are Not Bad version of That Makes Me Feel Angry).
  • Quizzical Tilt: Sonya's reaction after the first act of "The Opera".
  • Race Lift: Hélène (presumably white in the novel) was played by Amber Gray, and Phillipa Soo, who played Natasha off-Broadway, is mixed-race. Denee Benton, who plays Natasha in the Broadway production, is black (and one of her understudies, Shoba Narayan, is South Asian). Marya D.'s role was also originated by a mixed-race actress. More likely a case of Ability over Appearance Colorblind Casting.
  • Refrain from Assuming: Most of the songs in the show are named after the principle characters that sing them, rather than after any lyric. Audience members even call one of the few that is ("Charming") by its non-title, "How She Blushes."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Pierre to Anatole during "Pierre and Anatole". However, Anatole being Anatole, it doesn't stick, and Pierre forgoes pressing the point in favor of getting Anatole to comply with his damage control plan.
    Pierre: After all, you must understand/that besides your pleasure/there's such a thing as other people/and their happiness and peace/and that you are ruining a whole life/for the sake of amusing yourself!
  • Romantic False Lead: Both Andrey and Anatole end up being this. Their relationships with Natasha end badly and at the end she gets major Ship Tease with Pierre.
  • Running Gag: "Lend me fifty rubles?"
  • Russian Naming Convention: But of course. Lampshaded in both the Prologue ("Everyone's got nine different names!") and when Natasha and Sonya introduce themselves to Marya during "Moscow."
  • Shotgun Wedding: Anatole wouldn't even have a wife if not for a certain Polish heiress's father finding out about their dalliance.
  • Shout-Out: There are quite a few musical quotations, including one from Hamilton.
  • Show Within a Show: The opera the characters attend. To help distinguish it from the rest of the score, it sounds pretty much like the last minute or so of the opening credits of The Shining.
  • Slut-Shaming: Natasha gets a lot of this in the second act, but eventually the other characters realize that Anatole lied to her and led her on, and shift the blame to him. Though Andrey can't bring himself to forgive a "fallen woman" — after all, he never claimed that he himself would be able to absolve such a lady.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: See Acting for Two, above.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: An ensemble member engages in this in the middle of The Abduction.
  • Theme Tune Roll Call: The prologue introduces all of the characters except Pierre (who gets an introductory song to himself right afterward).
  • Truth in Television: Just before Anatole goes off to abduct Natasha for the elopement, the entire cast sit down and wait for about half a minute without doing anything - "It's a Russian custom." This is a real tradition in Russia that's lasted to the present day, and one of Dave Malloy's favourite moments is when Russian members of the audience cry "It's true!"
  • Undying Loyalty: Sonya to Natasha, even when Natasha scorns her for not approving of her relationship with Anatole.
  • Villain Song: "Charming", for Hélène.
  • Villainous Incest: Hélene and Anatole are a little too close in some scenes. Not to mention that Anatole says he wishes Hélene wasn't his sister.
  • Virgin in a White Dress: Natasha ("Natasha is young") and her best friend, Sonya ("Sonya is good") both have white dresses for costumes.
  • Your Cheating Heart: This forms the entire basis of the plot — Natasha is cheating on Andrey and Anatole is cheating on his unnamed Polish wife. Meanwhile, Hélène makes no secret of the fact she's sleeping around on Pierre.

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