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In his Tony Awards appearances, his choice of concert material and his recent album of musical-theater songs, Stages, Josh Groban has made no secret of his flirtation with Broadway. He’ll finally cement the relationship next fall when he makes his debut, heading the cast of a transfer of the off-Broadway hit Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.
Directed by Rachel Chavkin, the critically acclaimed show was hatched by composer, lyricist and book writer Dave Malloy from a 70-page section of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, focusing on the young countess of the title and the unhappily married aristocrat who helps extricate her from a ruinous situation in pre-revolutionary Moscow.
The electro-pop opera was first performed at New York’s tiny Ars Nova developmental hub in 2012; it blossomed over the following two years in immersive off-Broadway productions, staged in custom-built tent structures and designed to mimic Russian dinner theater — with pierogi and vodka served during performances.
Groban, who has been seen in small acting roles in film and on TV, will play an expanded version of the male lead Pierre, a role originated by Malloy. The show’s creator is adding new material specifically tailored to take advantage of the baritone’s powerful voice.
“I’ve admired this brilliant piece of work and its creators for a long time,” said Groban. “It’s an imaginative and immersive show and a role that is fascinating to me on many levels. I’m thrilled to call it my first on Broadway.”
While no exact dates or venue have been set for the Broadway transfer, lead producers Howard & Janet Kagan and Paula Marie Black have confirmed plans to begin previews early next season in September. Further casting is to be announced.
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 is currently playing a limited engagement (without Groban) through Jan. 3 at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.
According to a report in today’s New York Times, director Chavkin and set designer Mimi Lien (a recent MacArthur grant recipient) have reworked the production to play on a traditional proscenium stage for the first time, albeit retaining cabaret-style elements. That redesign will serve as the template for the Broadway production.
If it succeeds on Broadway, the show will continue the trend of recent musicals like Once, Fun Home and Hamilton, proving that unconventional material nurtured off-Broadway on adventurous nonprofit stages can also flourish in the tougher commercial climate uptown.
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