Broadway has never before seen a show that looks or sounds like Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy’s electro-pop-operatic retelling of a segment of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which transforms the Imperial Theater into a freewheeling, immersive Russian supper club. Malloy, who originated the role of Pierre and also wrote the show’s music, lyrics, book and orchestrations, stopped by the Billboard on Broadway Podcast with cast members Lucas Steele (Anatole) and Brittain Ashford (Sonya) to chat about his unorthodox show and its myriad musical inspirations.
“My iPod kind of exists permanently on shuffle,” Malloy says of his evolving musical tastes (in celebration of the release of the show’s cast album on Reprise Records May 19, Malloy is currently tweeting playlists that inspired each of the show’s songs). “I was raised on ’60s and ’70s rock and roll, I went through a jazz snob phase, a classical snob phase, discovered Indonesian music, reggae… I love hearing all those kinds of music and the similarities between them.” The music in the show, he explains, incorporates sounds from EDM, pop, Golden Age Broadway, R&B and hip-hop, in addition to traditional Russian classical music.
Steele and Ashford both came to the show with backgrounds in musical theater and pop singing. “When I was in high school, I loved musical theater, but I didn’t exactly fit the mold,” Ashford recalls. Malloy came to one of her band’s shows at a “less savory downtown venue” and “sort of twisted my arm” into considering joining the Comet cast. “I’m really glad that he did.” Steele also came up writing and singing in bands downtown, “and thank God I did. I evolved in a way that made me ready for this experience, to come into something like this that’s so mixed in styles.”
Malloy goes on to describe how he wrote the show with specific voices like Steele’s and Ashford’s in mind (“Lucas joined us in the second workshop, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what Anatole sounds like!’”) and recalls casting Phillipa Soo (recently of Hamilton, now in Amelie) as his original Natasha. “That’s the advantage of having a composer who’s also a performer, and an artist,” Steele says of Malloy. “He understands what it is to set material on somebody.”
Listen to Malloy, Ashford and Steele as they chat with host Rebecca Milzoff about the unpredictable nature of the show’s performances, their own musical backgrounds and more.