Josh Groban Makes "Rewarding" Broadway Debut in 'Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812'

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Denee Benton and Josh Groban

Denee Benton found herself nestled between Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Phillipa Soo, who praised her performance at the lavish Plaza Hotel after-party.

After over a year of training, rehearsals and beard grooming, Josh Groban has made his Broadway debut in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

“I couldn’t have asked for a more brilliant group to do it with,” he told The Hollywood Reporter after Monday’s opening-night show, at which 18 other actors also made their Broadway debut. “I love this show and I love Pierre. It’s harder work than I’ve ever done in my life, but also the most rewarding.”

John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Emerson, Carrie Preston, Richard Kind, Diane Paulus, Robin Lord Taylor and Okieriete Onaodowan were among those who attended the opening of the new Broadway musical, which is based on a 70-page section of Tolstoy's War and Peace and focuses on a young countess and the unhappy aristocrat who helps extricate her from a ruinous situation in pre-revolutionary Moscow.

As the Imperial Theatre production includes occasional audience interaction, Lucas Steele landed in Marla Maples' lap, and Denee Benton found herself between two notable actors during Monday’s performance. “I thought, ‘Jesse Tyler Ferguson, I was just watching you on Modern Family last night — I wish I had known I was gonna sing to you!’ ” she laughed, adding of Phillipa Soo, the Hamilton breakout who first played Benton’s role off-Broadway, “She was looking at me with so much love that my nerves calmed immediately."

Soo told THR afterward, "It was amazing to be able to watch the show for the first time, and [Denee's performance] was beautiful."

Is it better to know beforehand whether a Hollywood name is in the audience? “There are some nights where I’ve known and some where I haven’t, and it’s been equally intimidating!” Groban laughed at the lavish after-party, held at the Plaza Hotel. “But also, equally exciting, whether it’s a celebrity or not, to see that reaction face-to-face. Yes, it’s nerve-racking because you don’t know what you’re gonna get every night — and sometimes you get groped — but that’s part of the fun.”

Most thrilling for Groban, though, is the show’s quiet ending, when Natasha, Pierre and that great comet collide. “After so much chaos onstage, it’s so wonderful to have that simple, beautiful moment. This was at a time when science and religion were one in the same; you see a comet, and most people thought it was a harbinger of doom,” he said. “He sees something different, that maybe there’s something bigger than him and this narcissism we’re surrounding ourselves with for validation. Especially with the way the world is right now, to have a moment that feels almost religious, that we can see the deeper meaning of what’s important in life, it’s beautiful. I’m thrilled to be able to do it every night.”

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