‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812’ Soar into Cygnet

Rousing romance, deception, and drama. Cygnet’s newest production, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 has arrived, barreling down on OId Town with all three.

Helene and Natasha discuss her place in society.

Jasmine January and Selena Ceja in ‘Natasha, Pierre…’ Photo by Karli Cadel Photography.

Described by Concord Theatricals as “an electropop opera ripped from a slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace,” Dave Malloy’s musical centers romance and scandal within the larger sphere of the Napoleonic Wars. At the center of the story is young, endearing, and naive Natasha, who awaits the return of her fiance, Andrey, while navigating an introduction to Moscow society. Nearby, her fiance’s wealthy friend, Pierre, struggles with an existential crisis. Yet all bets are off with Natasha’s seemingly perfect life when a chance meeting with charismatic scoundrel Anatole sends her tumbling headfirst into a searing, illicit romance and edging closer and closer to ruin.

Balaga and the ensemble sing about the great elopement.

Cast of ‘Natasha, Pierre…’ Photo by Karli Cadel Photography.

Cygnet’s production is ably directed by Sean Murray in a luscious and immersive fashion, with actors not only emerging into the audience, but also playing instruments alongside an on-stage band music directed and conducted by Patrick Marion. The theatre has also opted to temporarily place patron seats onstage alongside the action, which results in all performers leveraging 360 degrees of rotation during the show for their storytelling.

Selena Ceja and Kürt Norby shine in the show’s titular roles as Natasha and Pierre. Norby is the highlight of the show in a role that feels like it could have been written for him. His voice is resonant and rich and his characterization of the hapless Pierre reads as both tragically vulnerable and harmlessly affable at the same time. 

Andrey and Natasha dance.

Brian Mackey and Selena Ceja in ‘Natasha, Pierre…’ Photo by Karli Cadel Photography.

Ceja likewise is delightful in her portrayal of the innocent and impulsive youth. From a performance perspective, the actor boasts full command of both a gorgeous mix and clear soprano which skip deftly through Natasha’s many mental birdwalks. And though the young socialite is prone to self-adulation, it is all without malice; rather, she is guileless and ultimately falls victim to a rakish heartbreaking villain who should absolutely know better.

This aforementioned duo are joined onstage by an vibrant ensemble who get some standout moments: Megan Carmitchel, who plays Sonya, alights with fierce loyalty and soaring vocals in “Sonya Alone,” while Pierre’s wife Hélène (Jasmine January) sings “Charming” with sultry mischief. Michael Louis Cusimano plays the wickedly handsome yet deceptive Anatole and is thoroughly convincing in his turn at villain with a beautiful tenor. Oh, and everyone should be so lucky as to hear Tanner Vydos (as Dolokhov) tackle (and slay!) the patter in “Preparations.”

The talented cast also includes Brian Mackey as Andrei/Bolkonsky, Linda Libby as Marya, Luke H. Jacobs as Balaga/Servant/Opera Singer, and Brittany Adriana Carrillo as Mary/Maid/Opera Singer, as well as a 7-piece onstage orchestra. 

Pierre sings under a starlit sky.

Kurt Norby in ‘Natasha, Pierre…’ Photo by Karli Cadel Photography.

And, though the writer Malloy takes no prisoners as he explores and appropriates a wide array of musical styles and throws them at the audience in a way that is categorically unapologetic, the vocal and instrumental parts are well rehearsed and harmonious (except for when they’re dissonant by design, of course), and the choral accompaniment by the ensemble cast is achingly beautiful. Choreographer Katie Banville has also created some delicious choreography for this production, highlighted throughout but most energetically brought to life in “Balaga,” a spirited second act number.

Moscow attends an opera.

The cast of ‘Natasha, Pierre…’ Photo by Karli Cadel Photography.

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is staged on a two story set design by Mathys Herbert featuring large relief starbursts and ostentatious chandeliers. It is brilliantly lit by Amanda Zieve, who leverages not only a series of integrated bars and bulbs, but also light effects that spill into the audience and bring the story ever closer, alongside sound design by Matt Lescault Wood and an edgy array of almost-period costumes/wigs/make-up by Shirley Pierson and Peter Herman.

The bottom line is that the source material, Tolstoy’s War and Peace…? Well, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea – or inebriating beverage of choice. But this musical? The scandal, sizzle, and drama are a spectacle… just like the comet the show is named after. This is definitely worth a watch.

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 runs through May 19 at Old Town’s Cygnet Theatre.

Read the program.

1 A B C D E G I J L M N O P Q R S T U W
Photo of Cygnet Theatre
Cygnet Theatre
Old Town Theatre 4040 Twiggs St. San Diego CA 92110 Work Phone: (619) 337-1525 Website: Cygnet Theatre website
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