Cygnet Theatre's West Coast Premiere of "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812"

Gifts Audiences in San Diego the True Broadway Experience 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti 

Kürt Norby. Photo by Karli Cadel Photography
Everybody in the performing arts world heard and saw all the raves about The Great Comet on Broadway in 2016. Whether it was because of the lovely Phillipa Soo or Josh Groban, the buzz about this musical was everywhere! It is a big deal when regional theatres venture with these large, elaborate shows—and I have mentioned it before—because a lot of pride and hard work goes into it all.

Comet' is a musical adaptation of part 8 of Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, focusing on romance and the search for the meaning of life. Written by composer/lyricist Dave Malloy, Cygnet's premiere is directed by the company's artistic director, Sean Murray. Patrick Marion is in the musical direction, and Katie Banville is in charge of the choreography. 

Cygnet's Illustration of the plot's Family Tree
In 1805 Saint Petersburg, Pierre Bezukhov (Kürt Norby) received a substantial inheritance while his friend Andrey (Brian Mackey) was off to war. In Moscow, the Rostov family has cousins Sonya (Megan Carmitchel) and Natasha (Selena Ceja), with their godmother Marya (Linda Libby). Andrey returns from the war to Moscow meets Natasha, and falls in love with her, asking for her hand. His dad, Bolkonsky (also Brian Mackey), disagrees and has Andrey leave for a year to marinate the feelings and ensure this is it. As the saying goes, "When the cat is away"... At a performance of Madama ButterflyNatasha meets Anatole (Michael Louis Cusimano), who is a player but falls for him too/anyway. Anatole is friends with Dolokhov (Tanner Vydos), and his sister, Hélène (Jasmine January), is married to Pierre. Balaga (Luke H. Jacobs) is Anatole's driver. Mary (Brittany Adriana Carrillo), Andrey's sister, and Natasha do not get along... For people familiar and unfamiliar with the novel, this is a labyrinthine plot that takes effort to keep up with, adding the musical aspect, ay! But part of this production's joy is following it all. The structure of the musical and its rhythm remind me of Mouline Rouge! The Musical (mashups aside) as it is bright and innovative. 

Michael Cusimano. Photo by Karli Cadel Photography
The cast is hot, hot, HOT! There is no weak link in this production as the casting is perfection, and Sean Murray's direction has a strategic blockage that uses the entire house, having the actors move around and interact with the audience. There are also a couple of chairs on each side of the stage with a Greek chorus dynamic where cast members come and sit and/or play a scene. Some show triple and quadruple threats while dancing and playing instruments like guitar and accordion. Performing this musical is hard, and it shows. What also shows is that this cast accepts and rises up to the challenge as each and every one of them seems to be flowing in their element. Mathys Herbert's scenic design embraces the Broadway experience by having seven orchestra musicians onstage located in three blocks: two high blocks of two musicians on the sides and one middle block with three musicians, including Patrick Marion, conducting. The program lists the musicians and instruments as follows: Sean LaPerruque with violin/viola, Arianna Warren with clarinet/bass clarinet, Amy Kalal with Oboe/English horn, Erika Boras Tesi in cello, PJ Bovee at the bass and Dave Rumley in drums/percussions but, there was a Josh Groban lookalike playing the cello on opening night so, I do not know...

Below the top corners where the musicians are, there are pits for the audience to sit, creating a visual impact as audiences that are seeing the show on the opposite side also face the audiences on stage. I am still recovering from Michael Cusimano's 2023 performance in The Turn of the Screw and in 'Comet, I believe this performance to be his best yet as he showed incredible physicality moving around the whole theatre, sliding down the aisle rails, dancing, carrying a solid tune, playing instruments and not looking half bad in that pleather ensemble costume designer Shirley Pierson had him wear. Pierson incorporated pieces made with lace, velvet, and leather, making everybody look amazing. Peter Herman's makeup design used eyeliner right, accentuating the looks while implementing buns and braids for the women's wig design and a couple of playful wigs for the men, truly embracing that 1800s era.

Megan Carmitchel, Linda Libby, Selena Ceja. Photo by Karli Cadel Photography
I did not know Megan Carmitchel played the accordion, which is one of the great things these types of roles bring. Carmitchel was charming and engaging, as always. Her stage cousin Selena Ceja beamed as Natasha with a beautiful rendition of "No One Else" as well as Pierre & Natasha. Ceja was a natural and flowed through the stage. Kürt Norby captivated everybody while performing "Dust and Ashes." Now, I need to recover from that performance that was so tender and heartfelt. Norby is a standout Pierre. 

Each song had all the elements there, like Amanda Zieve's lighting design and Matt Lescault Wood's sound, as they were timed and aligned accordingly. Brian Mackey continues to surprise with different histrionic layers, from his role as the hardheaded Anthony Reilly to this gig playing father/son Andrey and Bolkonsky, delivering playful dialogues and mannerisms as Bolkonsky but also balancing it with the love strong and confused Andrey. Jasmin January is vicious and seductive as Hélène. I appreciated her performance on this show, which was grounded and stern. Continuing with the sister theme, Brittany Adriana Carrillo played a good game with Ceja as Natasha, flowing throughout the theatre and belting out each song properly. Linda Libby enchants as Marya with poise and grace. It is always a pleasure seeing Luke H. Jacobs, as there is no limit to what he can do on stage, especially with interpretation imprinting charm to every line. Tanner Vydos's long hair look went well with the role of Dolokhov, who is also seductive and playful. There is a word in Spanish, "lucir," which translates to "show off," but it definitely loses in translation as what I mean to say is that the cast is very "lucidor", meaning they impress and shine bright. 

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is definitely one of the must-see productions in San Diego this year. Cygnet embraced the true musical experience assignment and delivered an A+ production with a golden star.                                                                  

Already extended twice and currently playing until May 26th. For more information and show times, please click here

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