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Fancast: War and Peace

war and peace fancast

I’ve been planning a War & Peace fancast since before I started the actual book! I’ve been playing around with casting ideas in my head for months now, so I’m really pleased I finally sat down and put it all together.

There were some characters who just jumped out at me and I immediately knew who I wanted to cast for them.  However, I thought I should wait until I had finished reading the novel.  Then I was struggling to cast a particular pair of characters so I set it aside again.  But I’ve had some casting epiphanies again recently, and now I have my cast!

Now, obviously, I couldn’t possibly include every single character in War and Peace (I mean, I could, but I don’t want to).  There are going to be some important characters missing (for example, Denisov) because I just didn’t have any particularly inspired casting thoughts about them. Then there are other characters who may seem minor but whose castings jumped out at me.

So let’s get started! Continue reading “Fancast: War and Peace”

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The Great Ask Tag of 1812

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I have seen Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 four times and counting (I already have tickets to see it another two times RIP my bank account) because it is an incredible piece of theatre. After I see it the sixth time I will likely post something talking more in depth about my experience with it and its intense draw for me, but for now, here’s an ask meme I stumbled upon on Tumblr.

 

1. Which song do you want to see performed live the most?

Well, I’ve seen them all, and I think the pieces where the whole ensemble is on stage (The Duel, Preparations, Balaga, The Abduction) are freaking incredible. The cast is absolutely bursting with manic, frenzied energy and it’s infectious.

2. Were you a fan of Comet before it came to Broadway?

Not at all! In fact I had never even heard of it before it came to Broadway. I am a fan of Rachel Chavkin, having seen her Hadestown three times, but I only realized she was directing Great Comet literally the day before I saw it for the first time. I don’t even remember why I wanted to see it in the first place.

3. Act 1 or Act 2?

Ahhhhh that’s tough! The first time I saw it I thought Act 2 was better, but I think it depends on who’s playing Pierre, since he has more solos in Act 2.

4. Favorite character?

Helene Bezukhova, followed closely by her brother Anatole! I just think the pair of them are fascinating characters and quite the dynamic duo.  I could write pages and pages of headcanons for both of them. They are so utterly flawed and rather terrible privileged selfish people, but they have these small moments when kinder traits shine through and it is super intriguing to me. Helene in particular I find interesting because she is a woman who so brazenly owns her sexuality and is taking charge of her own life.

5. Least favorite character? 

I just started reading War and Peace, so perhaps I’m blurring the lines a little here, but I don’t like Andrei.  So far in the book he comes off as a misogynist. If we’re talking strictly about the show, hmm, perhaps his father?

6. What would you do to stop Comet from closing?

A Lot. I literally had a dream about the Great Comet’s closure, clearly I am very distressed!

7. Off-Broadway or Broadway cast recording?

I have actually never listened to the Off-Broadway recording! That’s next on my list.

8. Has Comet made you read or want to read War and Peace?

Yup! I tend to shy away from classics, and I never ever would have picked up the gigantic tome that is War and Peace if it weren’t for this show. I started reading it yesterday and I’m about 60 pages in so far; it’s so much fun tying the show to the characters in the book! It definitely makes the reading experience more interesting.

9. Favorite cast member? 

I am obsessed with Lucas Steele and Amber Gray, particularly the pair of  them together. According to interviews they are rather good friends, as they have been performing together for so long. It really shows in their performance, too, in the way they interact; their chemistry is off the charts. When I saw the show last night Amber’s understudy was playing Helene and her interactions with Lucas, while good, just weren’t the same.

10. Favorite Natasha?

I’ve only seen Denee Benton and Shoba Narayan in action, but I loved them both! They’re both gorgeous and adorable and have beautiful voices; they play Natasha a little bit differently but both their performances are wonderful.

11. Favorite Pierre?

I’ve seen all the Pierres, so my ranking is thus: Groban, Oak, Scott, Dave. I actually really dislike Dave’s Pierre; his voice really grates.  I think Groban has the best vocals, Oak has the best stage presence, and Scott does a really great job of combining those two things.

12. Character you relate to the most? 

I just…really love Helene for some reason? We are absolutely nothing alike at all, but I sympathize with her so much. She’s married to this man she detests, whom she only married because her father arranged the marriage, and she’s just trying to eek out whatever pleasure she can from life. If that means hurting other people, so be it. It’s not a great character trait, but it just makes her so fascinating, particularly as a female villain.

13. Do you ship Anatole and Dolokhov?

100%.  I fully believe Anatole and Dolokhov and Helene have a threesome going on.

14. Do you ship Hélène and Marya?

Meh, not really?

15. Do you ship Dolokhov and Hélène?

If Anatole comes along, then sure. Otherwise, meh.

16. Do you ship Anatole and Natasha?

Kind of! I’m actually really fascinated by this whole thing. In the show, when Pierre is looking for Anatole and Anatole is singing “It is essential that I see Natasha; how can I see her?” he is clearly very distraught.  He looks disheveled and nearly on the verge of tears as he goes through her letters; it certainly doesn’t look like he’s a rake who doesn’t give a shit about anything. I do think he’s really just a privileged man who’s totally oblivious to consequences and just as rash and impulsive as Natasha herself.  I think he really did fall in love with her and decided he had to have her and consequences be damned.  Like, he just doesn’t think about other people or rules or traditions but I don’t think he’s malicious; in fact so far in War and Peace Anatole comes off as rather benevolent, someone invested in making sure everyone has a good time.

17. Have you met anyone in the cast? If so who did you meet?

Nope! I’ve been tempted to wait outside the stage door before but like…I would be an awkward mess.

18. Fuck, marry, kill; Dolokhov, Anatole, and Hélène.

Kill Dolokhov, fuck Anatole, marry Helene.

19. Have you seen Comet?

Four times and counting!

20. How long have you been a Comet fan?

Not very long! I first saw it right before Groban left which was…early this summer, I think?

21. The Duel or Letters?

The Duel. It’s a wild party from start to finish, with strobe lights and cast members dressed up like they’re at a 90s rave, nonstop dancing…it’s ridiculous.  But Letters is awesome too, especially when Lucas sings the “Nataly, Nataly, Nataly!!” bit at the end.

22. Pierre or Dust and Ashes?

Dust and Ashes!

23. Moscow or Sunday Morning?

Moscow, although there’s something to be said for the way Grace McLean belts out “Time for church!” in Sunday Morning.

24. Character you want to play?

Helene, hands down.

25. Have you written Comet fan fiction?

Haven’t quite reached that level of obsession yet, but I’m getting there.

26. Have you read Comet fan fiction?

See above.

27. Anatole’s and Dolokhov’s kiss or Marya’s and Hélène’s kiss?

Anatole and Dolokhov kiss??? How have I seen this show four times and never noticed this?

28. Favorite song?

This is nearly impossible to answer! I’m very, very fond of the Prologue, especially on stage when the spotlight jumps so quickly from  character to character! The Opera is fantastic for the way it introduces Dolokhov, Helene, and Anatole.  The Ball and Letters are fantastic because Lucas gets to belt out some incredible lines.  The Duel, Preparations, Balaga, and The Aduction are an insane nonstop party with the entire cast dancing like it’s their last day on Earth and a million ridiculous things happening all over the stage.  I’m also fond of Sonya & Natasha, In My House, The Private and Intimate Life of the House (“And tiiiiiiiiime moooooooves ooooooooon!”), Moscow, and Charming (AMBER!), A Call to Pierre, and Pierre & Anatole.

…I think it would have just been easier to name my least favorite songs.

29. Least favorite song?

Definitely Pierre & Natasha and The Great Comet of 1812.  They’re such a snooze fest compared to the rest of the musical! Whenever I listen to the album I always skip these.

30. Favorite lyric?

A single one? Hmm…I’m fond of “the queen of society: beautiful, barely clothed!” and “We lived, laughed, and loved!” and “Smash your glasses on the floor!” and “Here’s to happiness, freedom, and life!”

31. Own any merch?

Not yet! Yesterday I lingered around the merch station thinking I might buy a t-shirt, but I left and ended up buying tickets for another show instead.  I might still buy the t-shirt, though! If the merch is available online I’ll browse and think on it.

32. Have you listed to or are a fan of any of the cast members’ solo music?

I like Lulu Fall’s work! She was only an ensemble cast member, though. I’ve tried out Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet but didn’t like it much, nor do I like Grace McLean’s music. I haven’t listened to anything of anyone else’s yet, though I would love to try it if someone pointed me towards it!

33. Can you play any Comet songs on an instrument?

I can’t do anything music related to save my life. I’m not exactly tone-deaf, but rather close. I wish more than anything that I could sing, but alas.  Perhaps that’s why I’m such a fan of this show; everyone in it is clearly so multi-talented.  Singing, dancing, acting, instruments…they do it all splendidly!

34. Do you follow all of the cast on social media?

Not all, but a few! Lucas and Denee are the first who come to mind. I think I follow Shoba as well? Not sure.

35. Do you have a dream cast? If so who is in it?

After I finish reading War and Peace you can bet your ass I’m doing a gigantic fancast.

36. Character you would be best friends with irl?

I’m just…in love with Helene, you guys.  I also think Anatole would be a really fun friend to have.

37. First song you heard from Comet?

The Prologue!

38. Describe Comet using 5 words.

Mesmerizing, Carnivalesque, Enthralling, Enchanting, Eclectic

39. Can you pronounce all the Russian and French in the show correctly?

I don’t speak either language but I tend to be rather decent at accents, so yes!

40. How did you become a Comet fan?

I mentioned this briefly before, but I sort of went to see the show on a whim? Like, a theater friend had said it was a really good show and that the soundtrack was kind of electropop/chamber pop/opera-ish and I was immediately fascinated because I really love that type of music. The fact that a black woman is the leading lady was also a huge draw.  I didn’t even know it was about War and Peace until like the day before when I read summaries online. I had no idea what I was getting into! The first time I saw it I liked it a lot, but it was really only after the second time that I truly fell in love. There’s so much going on that you really appreciate it more the second time when you’re not trying to keep track of everything and you already know everyone’s names and what happens.
I want to tag people, but I don’t know who’s seen this except Rachel @ pace, amore, libri and Chelsie @ Spotlight on Stories! If you’re a Great Comet fan, please let me know in the comments!

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Stage Corner: Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

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From the moment I walked into the Imperial I knew this would be an unusual experience. The entire theater is subsumed entirely into the show; audience members sit on the stage, lanterns light up the aisles, walls are draped in red velvet, performers dance behind the seats, and twinkling starburst chandeliers dangle from the ceiling.  The intimate staging portends the immersive experience that is The Great Comet of 1812.  Pierogis are tossed at the audience (I caught one, delicious!), as are musical shakers the audience is encouraged to use often.

All I knew going in was that the musical is based on a segment of Tolstoy’s War & Peace, chronicling Natasha Rostova’s affair with Anatole Kuragin.  Natasha’s fiance Andrey is off at war, and in his absence Natasha falls prey to Moscow’s charms and delights.  One of these charms is Anatole, who enlists his sister Helene’s help to seduce Natasha.  Helene is married to the titular Pierre, who is good friends with Andrey and Natasha’s family.  Put like that, it all seems somewhat banal, but these events are taken and transformed into something much grander.

The performance is absolutely wild.  Imagine a cross between a 1930s German cabaret performance and a late 90s underground rave.  The costumes reflect this eclectic fusion of styles and time periods; the dancers simultaneously resembled go-go dancers and characters in a Russian-inspired steampunk novel.  This vaguely phantasmagorical aesthetic is most embodied in the ensemble performances, which are bursting with boundless energy on the part of the performers.  There is so much movement in The Great Comet; it’s all so fun and exciting it makes you want to jump up and join in!

The music is gorgeous, a dizzying blend of traditional Slavic folk music, operatic pop, baroque pop, and electronic.  They come together to produce a performance that is dynamic and exuberant.  The standout performances for me were Lucas Steele’s Anatole and Amber Gray’s Helene.  I’ve only seen Amber Gray perform once before, but her style seems to always include powerful vocals and very intense acting that shocks you with its authenticity.  Steele, with his platinum blonde faux-hawk, delightfully preening demeanor, and croaking tenor stole every scene he was in.

Denee Benton is wonderful in her debut on Broadway, her belting soprano belying her tiny figure and her innocent grins bestowing her with ingenue wholesomeness.  Of course, Josh Groban’s Pierre is as incredible as expected.  He brings to the table not only his much-praised vocal prowess, but a performance that is laced with sorrow and self-loathing.  The role was clearly written for someone with his vocal abilities in mind, and so I look forward to seeing the show a second time with Hamilton’s Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan as Pierre.  Oak, who originated the roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison, has an incredibly powerful, booming, and versatile voice that is absolutely perfect for the role of Pierre.

Overall I was reminded strongly of the other Rachel Chavkin work I’ve seen: Hadestown.  The similarities are glaring.  Both works are lively and dynamic, both feature a mixture of traditional solos and overwhelmingly ebullient ensemble pieces, both are a blend of styles and time periods, and both have unique staging.  And, not for nothing, but both works also have black woman originating lead roles.  I have no idea if Chavkin has any hand in casting, but that her works seem to have this emphasis on diversity in common certainly bodes well for her future projects.  I’m definitely going to be following Chavkin’s career closely from now on.

It’s difficult to sum up The Great Comet in any meaningful way, and perhaps that’s a good thing.  The show’s strength is in its eclectic style and its wildly enthusiastic and somewhat bizarre ensemble performances.  The atmospheric staging contributes to the intimacy of this immersive theater experience, transporting you from an old New York City theater to nineteenth-century Russia with a steampunk flair.  It’s fun and funny and self-aware and outlandish and exciting, like being invited to an elite private party where everyone is a little bit high on drugs.  It’s one hell of a memorable show, and I can’t wait to experience it again.