‘Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812’ brings drama, humor, and immersion to Riverside Theatre

Telling the story of an intense and forbidden love affair, ‘Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812’ highlighted a great deal of musical and acting talent at Riverside Theatre.


Gabby Drees

Niyati Deshpande, playing Natasha Rostova, sings in the musical “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1912” at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City on Thursday, April 21, 2022. “Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1912” premiered Friday, April 22, and ends Sunday, May 8.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

The common theatrical phrase, ‘the audience is the final character in a show’ is perfectly applicable in Riverside Theatre’s latest production. For their first musical in over 12 years, Riverside Theatre presented Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.

The opera opened with a musical number to set the scene, introducing the audience to the characters. While the theatre was at limited capacity, the show was sold out and relatively full. Chandeliers adorned the ceiling, illuminating the area when needed.

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 embodies everything one would want in a musical — drama, eccentric characters, beautiful music, and humor all bundled into a single production.

The show followed the story of a complicated and interwoven family, so much so that the program included a family tree to outline the niceties within their relationships. Natasha, one of the main characters, drives the plot as she falls in love with a different man while her betrothed is off at war.

Simultaneously, the audience is introduced to Pierre — a man in the middle of an existential crisis, who has to help salvage Natasha’s reputation. The show is full of drama and twists, but the ending was absolutely unpredictable.

With a rich cast of unique characters, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has a great deal of action happening throughout the show. Elaborate dance numbers are scattered throughout the show, highlighting not only the voices and acting abilities of the performers, but their dancing as well.

The staging of the show is what allows for this piece to work so seamlessly. The director, Chris Okiishi, clearly knew how to direct the audience’s attention — amid all that was happening on stage, there were moments of clarity where the patrons were captured by individual moments.

Along with the traditional seating provided at Riverside, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 provided tables closer to the stage. Performers were woven throughout the audience, making for some fantastic interactive moments.

RELATED: Riverside Theatre to present first musical in over 12 years with ‘Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812’

During the first song after intermission, titled “Letters,” actual letters were passed throughout the audience, making their way to various characters. The interactive elements made for an immersive and enthralling experience.

The audience was also included through aspects as small as eye contact. While the passing of props certainly contributed to that immersion, the actors and actresses maintained intense eye contact with audience members as often as possible, drawing them in.

The music itself was masterfully composed and executed. Each and every member of the cast has an absolutely incredible range, taking on slow ballots and jazzier tunes.

Instrumental elements only heightened the vocalists. Utilizing electronic distortions to heighten moments of tension, the audience was holding onto every note played. One of the performers, Anna Novak, also played the accordion for the show, combining numerous elements of theater in her performance.

Between the elegant vocals and the precise staging, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 showed that Riverside Theatre was prepared to enter the world of musicals once again. The plot was able to keep the audience interested, and the execution performed by the cast brought the show together.