Utterly immersive and captivating, Shotgun Players’ rendition of “Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812” bursts at the seams with a celebration of life and an examination of the internal and external conflicts of Russia’s chaotic court. With a set decked out in gold, vodka and cabaret tables, Shotgun Players offers an opulent time machine back to 19th-century Russia, shaped by a distant war, the longing to be reunited with others and the intense desire to feel whole.
Based on a section of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” “Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812” follows Natasha (Jacqueline Dennis), a young woman pining for her fiance who is at war, as she arrives in Moscow and makes her debut among Russia’s nobility. Natasha finds herself quickly and dangerously wrapped up in the splendor of the esteemed nobles around her as she soothes her yearning heart, and it’s up to Pierre (Albert Hodge) to mend her tattered reputation.
Although an exuberant song introduces the audience to the musical’s extensive cast of characters, it’s almost unnecessary given the distinctiveness of each performer. While every character comes with a variety of nicknames, it’s almost impossible for viewers to confuse Dennis’ striking performance as Natasha — once naïve and wistful, now utterly blinded to the manipulation around her — with Hodge’s performance as Pierre, whose powerful and outstanding vocals captivate and allure. Each performer is nothing short of remarkable.
The characters come to life on stage as they grapple with the benefits and burdens of their social status, ranging from awkward first encounters with future in-laws to the dramatics of the Russian court. As the performers weave in and out of the rows of the theater, the audience loses itself in the show’s rapid escalation to hedonism. When Natasha’s shocking plans to elope with Anatole (Nick Rodrigues) fall apart and his manipulation is exposed, the theater is overcome with a sense of profound loss and tension.
The intricacies of the Russian court may be alien to a 21st-century audience, but the struggles of the characters certainly are not. At the start of the musical, Natasha’s radiance is wondrous, as she experiences the court with sparkling eyes and a bright soul. Swept up by the sweet words of Anatole, Natasha’s vibrance transforms into desperation and, ultimately, heartbreak. Dennis’ incredible vocals impart a range of emotions, from the joyful whimsy Natasha experiences to the grief she endures.
Likewise, Pierre’s feelings of uncertainty are just as enthralling as he finally remarks on his emotional metamorphosis, singing “It seems to me/ That this comet/ Feels me/ Feels my softened and uplifted soul/ And my newly melted heart/ Now blossoming/ Into a new life.” Hodge’s performance is mesmerizing and an absolute standout. As he navigates the familiar yet isolating court he’s a part of, Pierre struggles to discover who he wants to be, something that is both earnest and relatable.
Shotgun Players’ adaptation of the beloved musical is bewitching, with its attention to detail going down to who wears their wedding rings, and everyone should pay attention to the wedding rings. The fine details of the luxurious setting and the performers’ warm furs and bright silks bring an unfamiliar setting to life. Even though the pandemic stretched the development of the production to a long and tumultuous three years, it’s evident that Shotgun Players have poured their heart and soul into their performance of the electropop opera.
Live theater has certainly taken a hit during the pandemic, but Shotgun Players have weathered the worst and come back swinging with their unforgettable performance of “Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812.” Amid war and drama, Shotgun Players illuminate joy and celebration in a must-watch performance that is sure to enthrall audiences.