Stanford scholar shines in San Jose’s ‘Nice Comet’

“Natasha, Pierre, and the Nice Comet of 1812,” written by Dave Malloy, has all the time been considered one of my favourite musical theater exhibits. The piece takes a 70-page sliver of “Conflict and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy and twists it right into a two-hour story of Russian aristocracy and marriage, pleasure and chaos. It delivers all of it with ballads and pop-opera songs that make you bounce in your seat.

Seeing the present in San Jose was like revisiting an previous pal: by efficient staging, choreography and general power that poured out of every solid member, I walked out with a higher understanding and appreciation for one thing I’ve liked for years.

Set within the midst of the Napoleonic wars, it follows Pierre (Stephen Guggenheim) — an previous man within the depths of existential disaster — and Natasha (Paloma Aisenberg ’23) — a naive-yet-beautiful younger lady eager for her away-at-war fiancé Andrey (F. James Raasch). When Natasha arrives in Moscow together with her cousin Sonya (Annie Hunt) to stick with godmother Marya (Susan Gundunas), she has to navigate society whereas remaining devoted to her engagement. All the things modifications when she meets the charming participant Anatole (Jared Lee), resulting in a conflict of feelings, a scandalous affair and a (ruined) elopement scheme.

From the onset, I observed that the present effectively used the theater’s small house. Numbers made use of the aisle house and there was a T-shaped a part of the stage that prolonged into the viewers, creating intimacy inside the theater. The outstanding set design (by Jon Gourdoine) included a number of ranges and transferring furnishings items. Whereas easy in look, they had been essential to point out the totally different places the characters inhabited, starting from a membership to a household dwelling. 

My favourite a part of the set had been the floating devices scattered all through the stage. Actors would play devices through the present, equivalent to Pierre on the piano, Andrey on the accordion and Hélène (Juanita Harris) on the violin.

This instrument motif mirrored the meta facet of “The Nice Comet”: the characters are performing this as if it had been a guide. Not solely had been the lyrics typically delivered from the third-person, however typically if characters weren’t in a track, they might observe from totally different components of the stage — emulating somebody passively studying a guide — or fill in as additional characters outdoors of their roles.

At first, I questioned if the small solid would efficiently seize the world of the present with no full ensemble, which the unique manufacturing had. By the tip, although, it was apparent that query didn’t should be requested.

A boy jumps on stage as the cast of "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812" dances behind him.
The small solid and complicated set consisting of various transferring components, staircases and musical devices scattered all through added to the environment of the present. (Courtesy of San Jose Playehouse)

With influences from pop, rock and a mix of Russian people, upbeat musical numbers consisted of intricate choreography that replicated the energetic power of the society. Standouts had been “The Membership,” the place a line of individuals inspired Pierre to take pleasure in his alcoholism; “Balaga,” which launched the crazed troika driver portrayed by Corey Bryant; and “The Abduction,” the place Anatole, Dolokhov (Nicholos Rodrigues) and Balaga organized in a triangular formation to emulate a automobile touring by Moscow. 

The present is understood for an immersive expertise with loads of viewers interplay, and this solid managed to frequently acknowledge the presence of an viewers with out breaking character. Some viewers members would grow to be characters themselves. Some characters, equivalent to Previous Prince Bolkonsky and Anatole, instantly flirted with or yelled at viewers members. My favourite viewers interplay was once they handed me a shot glass (stuffed with water, after all) throughout “Prologue,” which was consistent with the alcohol and consuming proven thematically all through the present. 

Each actor was brilliantly casted with equally excellent vocals to again them up. Aisenberg stood out as Natasha; she was fairly actually glowing each time she walked on stage. Her solo, “No One Else,” showcased her soprano vary and grasp on readability as she sang about lacking her fiancé after the failed dinner along with his household.

Sonya is first launched with the phrase “Sonya is nice”, and Hunt portrayed that kindness to perfection. This was the primary time “Sonya Alone” — a track the place Sonya dedicates herself to defending Natasha it doesn’t matter what although she disapproves of Anatole — made me tear up. 

Even Mary (Osher Positive), labeled a “minor character” within the first track, stood out in the best way she held herself on stage. Her hunched shoulders and fearful gaze throughout “The Non-public and Intimate Life” confirmed how caged she was by her father.

The casting of Anatole was equally essential to this manufacturing’s success. Lee is older than different variations of the character that I’ve seen, which precisely displays his age within the supply materials. Whereas Lee performs an equally good-looking and charismatic character, it felt the way it ought to have felt — predatory, on condition that Natasha is in her early 20s at most. It left no room for romanticization of their relationship. 

Lee did a superb job at portraying a strolling crimson flag, his first entrance showcasing an egotistical swagger that indicated why the track about Anatole and Natasha’s elopement was referred to as “The Abduction.” This energy dynamic made the present life like: Natasha later takes accountability for dishonest, however her naivety leaves room for forgiveness as Anatole isn’t an trustworthy man.

Different parts of manufacturing design — sound, lighting and costumes — had been unimaginable, too. There was little to no suggestions with the microphones and I heard each phrase, which is vital as the whole musical is sung-through. Lighting successfully captured the temper of every track, and an association of chandeliers and string-lights on the ceiling made it in order that the ultimate track — “The Nice Comet of 1812” — had a fixture resembling a comet. Costumes had been well-planned and versatile as solid members performed a number of characters and characters needed to change outfits in between or throughout songs. 

My solely grievance was that I didn’t like Anatole’s gold pants. Whereas he’s a flashy character, one thing extra smooth and basic would have blended in higher with the opposite costumes and never appeared too on-the-nose. Even when he wanted to face out, a deep crimson coat or extra promiscuous shirt may have completed this whereas remaining consistent with the present’s aesthetic.

Two hours of Russian literature reside doesn’t essentially sound interesting on the first look; nonetheless, viewers members left in awe, muttering their admiration as they exited the theater. I affirm that this manufacturing is a should see for Bay Space theater-goers — go, observe the comet. 

Editor’s Notice: This text is a evaluation and contains subjective ideas, opinions and critiques.