Sunday, May 19, 2013

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 ****

For a unique evening of musical entertainment and Russian cuisine, head to Kazino, the ersatz Russian nightclub in a tent under the High Line in the Meatpacking District. When you enter, you are greeted with a vodka drink and carnival entertainment while you wait to be seated. The nightclub is stunning -- the red velvet walls are covered with period paintings, the ceiling is studded with chandeliers reminiscent of those at the Met, and the long rectangular space is filled with small tables and cafe chairs, set on three different levels. Musicians playing both traditional and electronic instruments are scattered around the room. By the time you have finished your meal (crudites, black bread, borscht, chicken, salmon, couscous and pierogi) and any optional drinks you have ordered, you may have forgotten that you were there to see a musical! And then comes the main event, Dave Malloy's clever pop opera adapted from the section of War and Peace that describes Natasha's arrival in Moscow, her introduction to society at the opera, her disastrous meeting with the father and sister of her fiance Andrey who is away at war, her seduction and attempted abduction by the unscrupulous Anatole, her ensuing misery, and the spark of sympathy for her that ignites Pierre. With one dramatic exception near the end, the piece is entirely sung. The eclectic score has touches of folk, pop, rock and club music. The staging is, to put it mildly, fluid: the performers run up and down the central aisle and along platforms that encircle the room and even sit down amid the audience occasionally. Both the acting and vocal skills of the cast are strong. Phillipa Soo as Natasha, Lucas Steele as Anatole, Brittain Ashford as Natasha's cousin Sonya and playwright/composer Malloy as Pierre stand out. Rachel Chavkin's direction, Mimi Lien's scenic design, Paloma Young's costumes, Bradley King's lighting and Sam Pinkleton's choreography are all first-rate. It all added up to a very enjoyable evening. Running time: two hours, 35 minutes including intermission. However, dinner is served an hour before it begins and the play started late, so it added up to almost four hours. Note that you may be seated at a table with strangers and that the wooden seats are not cushioned.

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