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

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

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.

The show made its Off-Broadway debut in 2012. It made its way to Broadway in 2016 before closing in 2017.

Now with a character sheet.

This musical contains examples of:

  • Actor-Muso Show:* The show uses this approach. Pierre in particular is seated at the piano for much of the show, and playing accordion when not seated. The original Pierre was the composer and music director Dave Malloy. Josh Groban had to learn the accordion when he stepped into the role.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Andrey is a Subversion. A sympathetic character in the original story, his portrayal here isn't very flattering. However, the musical isn't actually changing Andrey's character, it's just that he's only briefly present for this portion of the original story, and his role here displays a more negative side to his character rather than showing his more likable traits.
  • 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 Girls Want Bad Boys:
    • Natasha is seduced from her engagement to the honorable Andrey by the rakish Anatole.
    • At the opera, the chorus comments that Dolokhov killed the Shah's brother and now all the women are into him.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Also present in "Pierre," where Pierre sings about wasting his life.
      Pierre: And I sit at home and read / Hours at a time / Hours at my screen...
  • Anti-Villain: Anatole is a hedonist who's not just careless, but actively avoids taking any responsibility for his destructive actions. However, he's really not trying to hurt anyone, and his friendly and charming nature is genuine.
  • 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.
  • Bad Girl Song: Hélène's "Charming" makes it clear she is fine committing indiscretions in her marriage in order to have fun, and she tempts Natasha into doing so as well. Doubles as Villain Song.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man: Hélène tries to manipulate Natasha into this.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Averted for the most part. Hélène and her brother Anatole are both seen by others as very attractive, but that just hides the wicked hearts they hold beneath. Andrey is also portrayed as handsome but in his only appearance with another character is shown to be rather cold and jaded. Meanwhile, "plain" Mary and sad, stout Pierre are both good-intentioned and kind. Played Straight with Natasha and Sonya.
  • Big Bad: While Anatole isn't evil, his reckless actions are responsible for the show's central drama.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Orphaned as a baby and raised since by the Rostovs, Sonya and Natasha's relationship is more akin to sisters than cousins. Sonya especially is shown to go out of her way to comfort Natasha when the latter is upset, and vows in "Sonya Alone" to keep Natasha from going through with a disastrous elopement to Anatole even though Natasha treated her harshly in the previous song "Sonya & Natasha."
  • 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: 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:
      All: 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.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: The charitable version of Prince Bolkonsky's behavior. Balaga could fit this as well.
  • Cloud Cuckoolanders Minder: Mary is this for her father Prince Bolkonsky.
  • 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.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Pierre becomes this briefly in "The Duel" when he sees Dolokhov and Hélène flirting right in front of him at the club. He challenges Dolokhov to a duel and shoots him, but feels remorse for his actions almost immediately afterwards and Dolokhov survives his injury.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Pierre actually a Subversion of this. He opens the show with the first sung lines and then he has the first solo number which goes into great detail about his character, unlike the other principle roles who only get brief summarizations in "Prologue." After that, while he continues to appear throughout, he spends a good chunk of the show not really factoring into the plot, with it being focused on Natasha instead. But during the second act, Pierre finally gets involved in the main drama, where he cements himself as the true hero of the show, which ends focused on him rather than Natasha.
  • Deuteragonist: While the main plot is centered around Natasha, by the end it's also clear that it's Pierre's story as well, with the two being roughly co-leads.
  • 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".
    All: 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 Hélène 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 Truth in 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.
  • "I Am" Song:
    • "Prologue" describes every character in a couple of sentences except Pierre.
    • "Pierre" for, well, Pierre, explaining his mentality and emotional state.
  • "I Want" Song: Pierre expresses his desire for real love in "Dust and Ashes".
    Pierre: They say we are asleep
    until we fall in love,
    and I'm so ready
    to wake up now.
    I want to wake up.
    Don't let me die while I'm like this!
  • 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...
  • Loved by All: Natasha thinks this of herself before she meets her future in-laws. She's thrown for a loop when they don't end up liking her.
    Natasha: I know they'll like me, everyone has always liked me!
  • Mama Bear: Marya becomes this after Natasha is rudely received by the Bolkonskys and after Natasha's attempted elopement with Anatole.
    Marya: [To Pierre] You must go see your brother-in-law
    and tell him that he must leave Moscow
    and not dare to let me set my eyes on him again!
  • 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, to the point where he only interacts with Natasha, the only other title character, during the second-to-last song. Only then does he see the titular Great Comet, interpreting it as a symbol of his new realisation of the joy in life. In the end, the implicit promise of the title is only fulfilled in the final 15 minutes of the show.
  • 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.
  • Period Piece, Modern Language: The setting is 1810s Russia, and most of the libretto is paraphrased from War and Peace. It also interjects modern phrasing for emphasis/humor, such as pointedly calling Andrey's family "totally messed up" in "Prologue".
  • 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: The characters are all presumably white in the novel while Hélène was played by Amber Gray and Natasha has been played by Phillipa Soo (of Chinese and European descent), Denee Benton (Black), and Benton's understudy Shoba Narayan (South Asian). Marya D.'s role was also originated by Amelia Workman, who is mixed-race.
  • 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?" can be held multiple times throughout the musical.
  • Sexless Marriage: The Bezukhov marriage has come to this by the time the show takes place. Ironically, Pierre was initially excited about marrying Hélène because he found her physically attractive. Her Rich Bitch tendencies he noticed once they married quickly eroded his attraction to her, while Hélène was always mainly set on marrying Pierre for his fortune.
  • 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".
  • The Bus Came Back: Andrey, whose significance in the play lies in being absent, comes back from the war in "Pierre & Andrey," the third-to-final song. He meets his friend Pierre to confirm that Natasha rejected his proposal and what her whereabouts are now.
  • Theme Tune Roll Call: The prologue introduces all of the characters except Pierre (who gets an introductory song to himself right afterward).
  • Title by Year: Set in the titular stated year, released in 2012.
  • 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!"
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Pierre is described as drunk, sad, old, and fat by most of the characters while Hélène is shown to be beautiful and popular with Moscow society.
  • 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 ("young") and her best friend, Sonya ("good") both have white dresses for costumes. On the other hand, Helene ("slut") Anatole ("hot"), and Dolokhov ("fierce") wear dark colors in the original staging.