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2/3/2024        NATASHA, PIERRE, AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812       Horizon Theatre


pgm 0203 Comet 1.jpg

Moscow     February 3, 1812


To My Beloved Wife:


I would like to thank you for joining me for the Horizon’s reprise of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.  I could actually have a conversation with you about it, hear your thoughts, express my own, but your overlords at Spirit Airlines have whisked you from my side for another week of Sky Dancing.  I sincerely hope this letter finds its way to you before your schedule brings you back home.


Since I used an epistolary framework to pen my appreciation of last fall’s production, addressing it to our daughter, our pride and joy currently thriving as a young woman in Manhattan, this time I feel the need to address my letter to you, my greatest love, my partner who exuberantly nests in that spouse-shaped hollow in my heart.  Even though I do not have a need to fill you in on the background and details of this buoyantly vibrant musical (which I declared as my favorite theatrical experience of 2023), I do have a need to include said background for the sake of readers who may have missed my earlier appreciation and are looking for a reason to wend their way Horizon-ward.  For the readers who (against all reason) remember my earlier letter, I apologize for the redundancies inherent to cut-and-paste self-plagiarism.

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is set in 1812 Moscow.  It was a time (and place) of letters (as the opening number of Act 2 reminds us).  It was an era when family, friends, and even casual acquaintances communicated in writing, in putting their thoughts and feelings and opinions to paper and trusting in the delivery mechanisms available to them.  Here is an open letter to you (and all of my public readers) a missive to my treasured wife who is in my thoughts every minute of every day.


To be clear, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is one of the most extraordinary productions I have experienced.  Interactive, the audience is seated around the set, in seating both prosaically traditional and exquisitely period.  There is a bar around which some of the audience is seated, there are platforms above behind and amidst audience, and at all times the cast is mere inches from our faces, hence a sharing of letters and atmosphere and breath and passion.  But not vodka, though vodka (in the forms of Black Russians, White Russians, and simple shots) was readily (if not cheaply) available from the concession purveyors.


This play is based on a brief 70-page portion of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, making it less than 0.5% of the total story.   We are plunged into the social world of the Moscow privileged class.  The cream of Russian youth, peasant and aristocrat alike, are off fighting Napoleon.  As the song reminds us, “There’s a war going on somewhere out there, and Andrey isn’t here.”   Because this is a world of letters and gossip, let me give you a sense of it:


The Countess Natalya Rostova (aka “Natasha”) is Andrey’s beloved fiancée, and she pines for his letters until his return from the war.  She is rejected by Andrey’s father (old Prince Bolkonsky) and sister (the plain and unhappy Mary Bolkanskaya).  One evening, Natasha is taken to the opera in the company of her Godmother Marya Dmitrievna and her cousin (and dearest companion) Sonya Rostova.  There, she sees  Hélène Bezukhova , the wife of her friend Pierre Bezukhov, in the company of another man, Fedya Dolokhov.  She also meets Anatole Kuragin, brother to Hélène, and is immediately smitten with Anatole’s roguish good looks.


If you were at sea over the explosion of names and relations, the program again (thankfully) included a chart showing how everyone is related, involved, or connected.  Since Russian novels are notoriously dense, with characters having a plethora of names, you should count on the chart to keep your head above water.  At least within the focused memory of your experience at the play.


Suffice it to say, few people know that Anatole Kuragin has a wife, a seduced Polish girl forced into marriage by her angry father.  But Anatole is hot, content to spend his life and money on women and wine. And Natalya is his latest obsession!


I have only given you the set up.  I leave the what-happens-next to my readers’ own discovery, whether by this production, or by listening to the score on whatever modern device they choose for such entertainments.  This sung-through show is operatic in emotions and scope but not in style (tending more towards a Pop/Folk/Techno/Broadway amalgam).  We follow Anatole’s efforts to elope with Natasha, Pierre’s efforts to thwart him, Natasha’s efforts to be with whom she loves, and Andrey’s efforts to survive Natasha’s betrayal.  It all culminates with a highly energized troika chase accompanied by throbbing bass, rhythmic melody, full cast revelry, and (finally) the heavenly harbinger that is the titular comet.


To say this show left me breathless would be an understatement.  The confrontation between innocence and passion, the disconnect between dashing romantic men and their dissipated and coldly debauched hearts, the existential depression of a husband abandoned by an unloved and unloving (even sluttish) wife. (“Is this how I die?”  “How can one remain moral in an essentially immoral world?”).  These are all motifs common to Tolstoy, to other 19th-Centrury Russian artists, and to this production.


We are left with a happy(ish) conclusion, though what happens next to these characters in the original novel is as compelling as anything here. Perhaps my next letter will be rife with incident from Tolstoy’s tome, which last fall’s production inspired me to Kindle and begin.  I am still only a handful of chapters in but have already met (younger versions of) the main characters.   I anticipate learning the eventual fates of Pierre and Natasha and Anatole and Hélène and Andrey and Sonya and all the others.   


This musical (more often than not) pulls us into group celebrations and dances and revelry and diversions – yes the accompanists are in the cast and interact with us as often as do the actors.  We are agog at the audacity of the seducer, the naivete of the seduced, the petulance of the old, the wisdom of the young, the honesty and constancy of friends, the impulsiveness that leads to elopements and duels and betrayals and abandonments.


Scenic Designers Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay have created a space that accommodates audience and cast and musicians, that allows director Heidi McKerley ample lanes to get characters from one extreme corner of the space to its diametric opposite with the briefest of transits, that allows Musical Director Holt McCarley to keep musicians and singers in tune and in rhythm even as they are scattered throughout the room, that allows Lighting Designer Mary Parker to expertly focus our attention wherever it is needed (even if that focus is behind us, inches from our faces, are in far flung corners of the room), that allows choreography (by Ms. McKerley and Jeff McKerley) that constantly moves with high octane without endangering us witnesses with high kicks and seemingly out-of-control whirling dervishesque steps, that allows Costume Designer Dr. L. Nyrobi N. Moss to create ensembles that bespeak wealth and privilege and 19th-century Russia.


And with ensemble work like this, it is impossible, even pointless, to find the best – no one is not up to the efforts of the others.  Most of the original cast are here and giving performances fresh enough to be mistaken for first weekend.  Leading actors Alexandria Joy (Natasha), Daniel Burns (Pierre), Understudy Alyssa Easterly Miller (Hélène), and Jordan Patrick (Anatole) generously share time and space and interaction with “minor” characters played by Terry Burrell (Marya), Anna Dvorak (Sonya), Jeff McKerley (Bolkonsky), Hayden Rowe (Andrey), Terrence J. Smith (Dolokhov), and Skyler Brown (Balaga).  All double and triple as incidental characters and musicians.  I also must toss congratulatory bouquets to the orchestra ensemble, Eden Mew, Molly Ann Tucker Miro Gomez, Ruth Mehari, Eric Nabeth, Marissa Romanoff, Paul Glaze, and seemingly everyone on keyboards scattered throughout the space.


This revival was every bit as exceptional as the original, and I was so joyous at your company, at your equally favorable response to it, at how willingly you entered into the interactive world of the play.  Our marriage began with a play, and its continued success is a direct result of our shared love of theatre and joy of playgoing.   I look forward to your thoughts, your wisdom, your enthusiasm, your reaction to our shared experience. 


Safe skies, my Countess!   I love you, truly, madly, deeply.


Hurry Home!


    --  Brad Rudy  (    #HorizonTheatre  #htcGreatComet

(Read my 2023 Letter to Julia HERE)

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