by Louise, Director of Operations
“Immersive” is becoming a more and more widely-used term in the theater community, although the definition may not be fully recognized by say, spell check. But anyone who attends the theater often knows that immersive shows are on the rise. Sleep No More – the four story, nothing-off-limits, Macbeth-inspired experience that has made its home in Chelsea for nearly two years is perhaps the most ubiquitous (read our review here), and this week I attended another that I hope will be part of the NYC theater landscape for a long time: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.
At first glance, Kazino – the temporary structure built especially to accommodate the show – looks somewhat like a circus tent. As my friend and I stood outside in the surprise 30 degree weather, waiting for the doors to open, she even remarked “I hope it’s heated in there.” Any fears quickly dissipated when we were ushered into the space, a cozy supper club atmosphere with cabaret tables set up around the perimeter and long platforms on either side. We were served borscht and ordered drinks. The venue offers a full bar and an assortment of shareable dishes, but there is absolutely no requirement to order anything, and there are several complimentary snacks served throughout the show. (Pro tip: if you check in on Foursquare you also get a free shot of vodka.)
The show begins with a fantastic fourth-wall-busting opening number, where the cast introduces themselves, gives a quick overview of each main character, and reminds you that the show is based on War & Peace, which is “a complicated Russian novel,” and “everyone has nine names.” The actors pick up programs and show you that it includes a synopsis and a “family tree” showing how the characters relate to each other, and encourages you to use these resources so you don’t get lost, concluding with “We appreciate it, thanks a lot!”
Throughout the show the actors are all over the space, on both side platforms and between the two rows of cabaret tables. You do need to keep turning your head to see all the action, but you definitely also feel a part of it all, and will occasionally interact with one of the cast members, which is of course what makes it an immersive experience. I even got to bring home a flirty note that was passed to me by a handsome gentleman during the second act.
As for the plot, it may seem intimidating and cumbersome to go to a show based on War & Peace (although it makes no claims about telling the entire 1440 page tale and bills itself as being based upon the “scandalous slice” of the story), but at its core it is really just a story about a young girl behaving foolishly with her heart, and who among us can’t relate to that?
The show has an extremely talented cast, even with many of them being relatively new on the scene. The lead actress Phillipa Soo blew all of our minds with her expressive acting and gorgeous voice, and male lead David Abeles was compelling and enchanting as well. Every supporting player was fun to watch right down to the ensemble, and they all did such a wonderful job interacting with the audience without making it awkward for anyone, which is no small feat. Besides the opening number, several other songs really stuck out for me, but my favorite was Sonya Alone, a lament in the second act sung by Natasha’s cousin as she wonders how to keep her dear friend from making a terrible mistake. The closing number is similarly gorgeous, and leaves you wishing you could have a few moments of quiet reflection before having to spill out on to the busy Times Square streets.
If you’re old hat at theater, or just want to see something interesting and out of the ordinary, this is the show to consider this holiday season. Currently the show is scheduled to run through January 5th but I sure hope it will be around for longer! Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or for help with tickets.