Shotgun Players has extended performances of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 into early February. The New York Times proclaimed it to be, “Both the most innovative and the best new musical to open on Broadway since Hamilton!” This musical extravaganza, nominated for 12 Tony Awards and a recipient of two, came to the West Coast — Berkeley, to be specific — after an acclaimed run on Broadway.
“It’s not every day that we get to produce the West Coast premiere of a show that was nominated for 12 Tonys,” said Shotgun Players’ Artistic Director Patrick Dooley. “But Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 was written by Dave Malloy, someone who got his start working with Shotgun Players and other Bay Area theaters like ours not too long ago.”
This electropop opera is based on a scandalous slice of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Young and impulsive, Natasha Rostova arrives in Moscow to await the return of her fiance from the front lines. When she falls under the spell of the roguish Anatole, it is up to Pierre, a family friend in the middle of an existential crisis, to pick up the pieces of her shattered reputation.
“There’s high drama,” Dooley said. “And because it’s a Malloy musical, it’s all woven together with his signature, irreverent, soulful music and lyrics. I saw the show while it was in previews at Ars Nova back in 2012, and it’s been my dream to see it at the Ashby Stage ever since.”
The Berkeley theater has been transformed into a 19th century Russian nightclub, with cabaret tables, Russian vodka, plant-based pierogies, and an immersive and unforgettable theatrical experience. Shotgun Players is offering a free drink voucher to anyone arriving in a 19th century Russian costume, including waistcoats, breeches, empire-waist gowns, faux fur hats and stoles, and embroidered coats. Shotgun Players offers an inspiration board online at shotgunplayers.org. They will also offer a special New Year’s Eve performance with bottomless complimentary sparkling wine.
Shotgun Players has enjoyed a long and collaborative relationship with the award-winning Malloy, the creator and composer of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. A former Bay Area resident, Malloy started working with Shotgun Players in 2005 as music director of Cabaret. In 2008, he composed music for Vera Wilde and co-created and composed Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage (in collaboration with Banana Bag & Bodice) for the Ashby Stage. Following Beowulf’s celebrated run at Ars Nova in New York, Malloy co-created and composed the Shotgun Players production of Beardo in 2011. Malloy’s musical Octet was produced at Berkeley Rep in the spring of 2022.
Malloy said he was inspired to write the audacious and genre-expanding Great Comet after reading War and Peace. “One of the things that I love about War and Peace, and that Great Comet also tries to do, is the celebration of all of life, which is both the really expansive, large, communal celebration of life, where everyone is dancing and drinking, but also that it zeros in to these very intimate moments and what people deal with internally and psychologically, and these minute interactions between two human beings.”
Co-director Dooley agreed. “This is about the messy tenderness of family dynamics. I’ve daydreamed about how it captures our quiet and desperate desire for connection. The text and music kaleidoscopically shift in my imagination to offer new truths as my own relationship to my life evolves. I think that’s a marker of a great work of art: it meets you where you are.”
Erin Mei-Ling Stuart is co-director and choreographer. “There’s so much life in this show that can’t possibly be contained on the stage,” Stuart said. “It has to swirl out in bursts of singing and dancing and celebrating. What joy! Yes, in the midst of the personal dramas and the looming war, there is a surprising amount of joy in this show.”
Shotgun Players will be offering a live-stream performance on Friday, Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. For audience members 25 & under, they’re offering a M.A.D. night on Thursday, Jan. 19. Use code MADTIX for $7 tickets and arrive early to enjoy free pizza and beer (21 and over).
General admission tickets are $30-$62. Special community tickets for those experiencing financial difficulty are available for $15 using discount code COMMUNITY. $7 M.A.D. tickets available for ages 25 and under, using discount code MADTIX. $20 Artist Tickets are available for working artists using discount code CALLBOARD.