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

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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
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Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is a 2012 "electro-pop opera" by Dave Malloy, based on Volume 2, Book 5note  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.

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Now with a character sheet.


This musical contains examples of:

  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • Anachronism Stew: The club Anatole, Dolokhov, Pierre, and Hélène attend is staged as a modern rave, with strobe lights, glowbands, the works. Andrey even makes a cameo in the pit as "DJ Andrey 3000," brandishing a laptop. Not to mention Anatole's Anime Hair.
  • Arc Words: "Andrey Isn't Here." Repeated constantly throughout the prologue, this statement hangs over the whole musical, as events escalate and mistakes are made due to his absence.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: In "Natasha and Pierre" when Natasha says Peter instead of the Russian Pyotr.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man: Hélène tries to manipulate Natasha into this.
  • 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?
  • 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.note 
  • 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.
  • BSoD 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.
  • Comet of Doom: Discussed but otherwise 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.
  • Costume Porn: Owning to how close audience members are to the actors, every costume in the show is highly detailed as to be as effective when seen from the other side of the theatre as when inches away.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Natasha and Anatole's plan to elope. On Anatole's side, he's technically committing 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 or Andrey will 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.
  • Dramatis Personae: The characters (save Pierre) are briefly introduced and established in "Prologue".
    "Balaga is fun / Bolkonsky is crazy / Mary is plain / Dolokhov is fierce / Hélène is a slut / Anatole is hot / Marya is old-school / Sonya is good / Natasha is young / And Andrey isn’t here!"
  • 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 let out a Big "NO!" when Dolohov seemingly kills him, implying that, while she hates Pierre, she doesn't want him to die.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The first act covers about two days.
  • 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).
  • 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.
    • This is also some Truthin Television, considering that the Russian aristocracy mostly spoke French during the nineteenth century and probably wouldn't have spoken Russian very often anyway.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Location Song: "Moscow," sung when Marya welcomes Sonya and Natasha to the titular city. The song establishes Marya's affection for her goddaughter.
    Marya: Welcome, welcome to Moscow, where faded and fading princesses live...
  • Musicalis Interruptus: In The Abduction:
    Anatole: Wait! Wait! Shut the door! First we have to sit down!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Averted, like the novel. However, 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"), in order to differentiate them.
  • 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.) Dolokhov is another example of this trope, being only referred to by his surname except in The Opera. And even then, it's the diminutive Fedya instead of Fyodor.
  • 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."
  • Patter Song: "Preparations," although it substitutes the comedy of most patter songs for menace.
  • Postmodernism: 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).
  • 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.
  • Refrain from Assuming: Most of the songs in the show are named after the principal characters that sing them, rather than after any lyric.
  • 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?"
  • 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.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: Since the lyrics are mostly taken directly from an English translation of War and Peace, it is very rare to hear rhymes in any songs. Some of the songs that do include rhymes are the "Prologue", "Dust and Ashes", "Sonya Alone", a majority of Dolokhov's lines in "Preparations", and "Balaga".
  • Sudden Soundtrack Stop: In "Pierre and Natasha", Natasha is recovering physically, mentally, and emotionally from her lowest point in the show. At one point in the song, the background music cuts out completely so Pierre can tell her that if he were a better and unmarried man, he would ask for her hand in marriage and her love. To emphasize the tenderness of the moment, this is the only spoken line in what is otherwise a sung-through musical.
  • Sung-Through Musical: Save for a brief portion of dialogue from Pierre, as seen above in Love Epiphany and O.O.C. Is Serious Business.
  • 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!"
  • 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. On the other hand, Helene ("Helene is a slut") Anatole, ("Anatole is hot") and Dolokhov ("Dolokhov is fierce") wear dark colors.
  • Voice Types: Ingenue heroine Natasha is fittingly a soprano. Her more realistic cousin Sonya is a mezzo. The villainous Hélène and the strict, older Marya are altos.
  • 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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