The set design is sumptuous (scenic design: Mimi Lien). One can’t ignore the beauty of the room when entering the reconfigured space of the Imperial Theatre. The background music is perfectly decadent, befitting the environment (sound design: Nicholas Pope). Audience and acting space are entwined throughout what normally is a traditional proscenium theatre. Wine, ‘champagne’, and vodka are served throughout the space. The cast is interspersed around us all, looking magnificently Russian in their dress (costume design: Paloma Young) imploring us to read up on the complicated plot in the Playbill. Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812, directed with a manic kinetic energy by Rachel Chavkin, is brought to us via a downtown theatrical experience formerly housed in a tent by The American Repertory Theater and ARS Nova. Dave Malloy (music, lyrics, book, and orchestrations) adapted this stage show from a small segment of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. But when the show begins, Malloy leads us by hand through the story in such a straightforward manner that reading the synopsis or studying the family tree is not required reading. In fact, I wish as much energy was given to creating an emotional arc in the story rather then plot points and explanations in a program.
The cast of professionals seem to be game, as they fling themselves up and down stairs, round and around the space, racing to get to their spot on time for a lighting cue (lighting design: Bradley King). They all sound magnificent and perform beautifully.
Josh Groban, the big named draw here, is wasted in a part verging on secondary. He is in fine voice and performs with ease as the drunken aristocrat Pierre, bored and disillusioned, but he is more of a friend to the action, then a part of the main story. Fans of his will feel slighted for the majority of the show, although he does have one beautifully emotional song, ‘Dust and Ashes’ mid way through Act One. This song is one of only a few, another being ‘Sonya Alone’ (sung with a unique charm by Brittain Ashford), that carries depth and love within the lyrics. The rest of the songs are far too simplistic and strangely descriptive of action and emotion, sometimes even sung in the third person (the music is quite lovely). There is something strange and disconcerting to have actors singing about their own movements around the stage in the third person. Descriptive language as lyrics, that reads more like stage direction, tend to be very distancing from a strong emotional core rather than engage us or make us lean in with our hearts and our minds. Stephen Sondheim, this is not. In a surprising twist, the set design concept of interspersing actors with audiences, which usually creates a more intimate experience, also tends to distance us from the characters as they seem to move more to utilize the space, rather than something organic or thoughtful (choreography by Sam Pinkleton).
The two main leads, Denee Benton as the young and naive Natasha, and Lucas Steele as the young roguish brother-in-law to Pierre, Anatole, valiantly try to drive this story forward through passionate renderings of forgettable songs. More often then not, this tragic story is played for laughs over tears, making Anatole foppish and haute rather than indulgent, self-entitled, and greedy. I felt for the well-voiced Steele being saddled with such a distracting directorial view.
Grace McLean as Natasha’s godmother, Marya D, and Amber Gray as Pierre’s decadent wife and similarly minded sister of Anatole, Helene, are more fortunate as their parts are treated with more seriousness and depth. Sadly, this fine group of actors is not given songwriting that approaches their expertise. I will say that it is a sumptuous show. Lively and entertaining. Moments of fun and pleasure delivered by an expert cast, but the combination of the simplistic lyrics and the manic movements created a show that is watched rather than engaged with. This show doesn’t run that deep.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Look for Suzanna Bowling and David Spencer’s reviews
Countdown to Christmas: For The Dancer and Theatre Lover Chita Rivera
2o days to go! Every year people panic to find the perfect gift. We at T2C have been collecting idea’s all year long to bring you the perfect gift guide at all price levels. When you’re at the end of your rope trying to find the perfect Christmas present this year, come to this guide for some great suggestions.
There are a lot of books out there this year but we highly recommend Chita: A Memoir , the critically-acclaimed book is written by the legendary Broadway icon Chita Rivera with arts journalist Patrick Pacheco. Chita takes fans behind-the-scenes of all her shows and cabaret acts, she shares candid stories of her many colleagues, friends, and lovers. She speaks with empathy and hindsight of her deep associations with complicated geniuses like Fosse and Robbins, as well as with the mega-talent Liza Minnelli, with whom she co-starred in The Rink. She openly discusses her affair with Sammy Davis, Jr. as well as her marriage to Tony Mordente and her subsequent off-the-radar relationships. Chita revisits the terrible car accident that threatened to end her career as a dancer forever. Center stage to Chita’s story are John Kander and Fred Ebb, the songwriters and dear friends indelibly tied to her career through some of her most enduring work: Chicago, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and The Visit.
Chita’s love of performing began as a child in Washington, D.C., when her mother enrolled her in a local ballet school to channel her boundless energy. Still a teenager, she moved to New York to attend the School of American Ballet after an audition for George Balanchine himself and winning a scholarship. But Broadway beckoned, and by twenty she was appearing in the choruses of Golden Age shows like Guys and Dolls and Can-Can. In the latter, she received special encouragement from its star Gwen Verdon, forging a personal and professional friendship that would help shape her career. The groundbreaking West Side Story brought her into the orbit of Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Hal Prince, and Stephen Sondheim. After Bye Bye Birdie further burnished her rising star, she reunited with Verdon and her then-husband Bob Fosse to work on the film version of Sweet Charity and the celebrated original Broadway production of Chicago.
Chita: A Memoir was published in English and Spanish and the English audio version of the Memoir was recorded by Chita. A Spanish audio version is also available.
“Chita Rivera blazed a trail where none existed so the rest of us could see a path forward. She has been part of some of the greatest musicals in the history of the form, from Anita in the trailblazing West Side Story through Claire Zachanassian in the underrated masterpiece The Visit, over 60 years later. She is a Puerto Rican Broadway icon and the original ‘triple threat.’ We’re so lucky to be alive in the same timeline as Chita Rivera.” — Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“A frank and fascinating memoir from one of the truly great artists of the American Theater. Lots of stories … Lots of insight … and quite a few caustic statements from Chita’s alter ego, Dolores. An illuminating history and a guaranteed pleasure!” — John Kander
Broadway legend and national treasure Chita Rivera, multi-Tony Award winner, Kennedy Center honoree, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom – has taken no prisoners on stage or screen for seven decades. From her trailblazing performance as the original Anita in West Side Story—for which she tapped her own Puerto Rican roots—to her haunting 2015 star turn in The Visit. Chita has proven to be much more than just a captivating dancer, singer, and actress beloved by audiences and casts alike. In her equally captivating and one-of-a-kind memoir, Written with Patrick Pacheco, the woman born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero shares an incomparable life, both on stage and behind the curtain.
By the way this Memoir has won a Gold Medal for “Best Autobiography – English” at the 2023 International Latino Book Awards. https://www.latinobookawards.org/
Click here to buy your copy.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Spamalot
Here is the amazing cast of Spamalot. Christopher Fitzgerald as Patsy, James Monroe Iglehart as King Arthur, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as The Lady of the Lake, Ethan Slater as The Historian/Prince Herbert, Jimmy Smagula as Sir Bedevere, Michael Urie as Sir Robin, Nik Walker as Sir Galahad and Taran Killam as Lancelot.
I was so inspired I drew the whole cast.
To read T2C’s review click here.
Ahead of the Broadway Opening of Lempicka The Longacre Theatre Is Showcasing Art Work By Tamara de Lempicka
The Longacre Theatre (220 W 48th St.), soon-to-be home of the sweeping new musical, Lempicka, is showcasing a curated selection of renowned artist Tamara de Lempicka’s most famous works. Eschewing traditional theatrical front-of-house advertising, the Longacre’s façade now boasts prints, creating a museum-quality exhibition right in the heart of Times Square. The musical opens on Broadway on April 14, 2024 at the same venue.
The Longacre’s outdoor exhibition includes works of Self Portrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti) (1929), Young Girl in Green (1927), Nu Adossé I (1925), The Red Tunic (1927), The Blue Scarf (1930), The Green Turban (1930), Portrait of Marjorie Ferry (1932), Portrait of Ira P. (1930), Portrait of Romana de la Salle (1928), and Adam and Eve (1932).
Starring Eden Espinosa and directed by Tony Award winner Rachel Chavkin, Lempicka features book, lyrics, and original concept by Carson Kreitzer, book and music by Matt Gould, and choreography by Raja Feather Kelly.
Spanning decades of political and personal turmoil and told through a thrilling, pop-infused score, Lempicka boldly explores the contradictions of a world in crisis, a woman ahead of her era, and an artist whose time has finally come.
Young Girl in Green painted by Tamara de Lempicka (1927). Oil on plywood.