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Sunday, September 3, 2017

My Last Day as a Cometeer

Dave Malloy as Pierre
So Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812 closed this afternoon. It was certainly not the ending fans of this show expected when it opened and was making millions per week. The demise of this musical has been endlessly discussed here, there, everywhere. Today I'll just talk about the thrilling, wonderful experience of being a Last Cometeer.

I almost didn't go to this show. Tickets sold out early and I had seen the show four previous times. But then an opportunity opened up and of course I pounced on it. My day as a Cometeer started at the NJ Transit train station where I was waiting for the train -- a mother and daughter were talking about "what goes on behind those doors." I quickly deduced that they were also Cometeers and indeed, they were headed to NYC for the same reason as me -- to see this show for their third time.

From then on I basically ran into one hard-core Cometeer after another. At ticketing I was standing in front of a girl who was made up exactly like Princess Mary. I was seated in front of a co-producer, who then was talking to a nice gentleman, "Mr. Benton." Yes, Denée's dad. It was such a joy to run into all these Cometeers. And then during intermission, I noticed a bunch of people approaching a skinny man in the orchestra. Yes, it was Josh Groban! I debated approaching him since I had no pen (stupid!) but was like fuck it, I'll just go when the co-producer assured me he was "very sweet." He was very sweet and also very low-key. On this day, he was just another Cometeer. When Amber Gray clinked my glass during "The Abduction" that was just the cherry on top.



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As for the performance, the screaming started as soon as Dave Malloy entered with his accordion. He acknowledged the cheers with a brief bow to the audience. Every main character got huge cheers. Unlike previous performances where I've seen Denée and Lucas pace themselves, the whole cast sang at full throttle -- no more holding back. There were loud ovations after every song, including a standing ovation after "Dust and Ashes." Other numbers that got screaming ovations: "Charming" by the incomparable Amber Gray, "Sonya Alone" with Brittain Ashford singing her heart out. But perhaps the moment that got to me the most was during the huge second act production number "Balaga" Lucas Steele sang one verse of "Goodbye, my gypsy lovers ..." and then pointed the bow of his violin at the audience and motioned for us to sing. Much of the audience started singing along, including, I noticed, some ushers behind me who were quietly wiping away tears. The crowd was in such a frenzy that Dave Malloy had to be reminded to ring the cowbell. By the final two numbers "Pierre and Natasha" and "Great Comet of 1812" the audience was sniffling, and I noticed Denée was crying for real. I wish the audience hadn't started applauding BEFORE the final light on the "comet" went out but hey, can't blame them for the enthusiasm.

Denee and Lucas

Then of course the bows, more cheers, and a brief but heartfelt speech from director Rachel Chavkin who implored the audience to go to "new works." By then the whole amazing ensemble was gathered onstage, and I was just thinking of the first time I went to the show (saw it on TDF and was curious to see Josh Groban in a fat suit -- it didn't go much beyond that), and how I then managed to see the show four more times in less than a month. Each time, the show got better, and it didn't matter much who was Pierre (I saw Josh, I saw Oak, I saw Scott, and I saw Dave). I think the first time I saw the show I was sort of overwhelmed by all the things going on -- the pierogies, the egg shakers, the rave party, the dancing up and down aisles, etc. etc. But upon each successive viewing I realized that the star of the show was The Score. Like all great musicals it's anchored to a score that gets better with each listening. I have a feeling that many numbers of this score will become musical theater favorites for divas and divos to steal -- "Sonya Alone," "No One Else," "Dust and Ashes." But really, it's the minute-to-minute greatness of the score, the continuity, the way Dave Malloy constantly goes into the minds of all these characters even when the sometimes awkward lyrics can't do so, that makes The Great Comet. And goshdarnit, Dave makes these character so lovable. Anatole might be a wastrel playboy, but I defy anyone not to love him when he sings "Goodbye, my gypsy lover ..."

Lucas Steele a few weeks ago posted this classy but strong rebuke to the charges of racism that clouded the show's final days. Here is the video, deserves to be seen in its entirety for it shows what a diverse cast this was:

This show developed such a loyal following among theater nerds that part of me still can't believe it's over. But then again, isn't that what comets do? They shine brightly and make the sky beautiful for a brief moment, and then they're gone, leaving us with wonderful memories.

Here is a video I took of the curtain calls. Farewell Cometeers. This cast is so talented I'm sure they'll sprinkle the sky again soon with new projects. But the alchemy of having them all in one room will never again happen, and that's why I feel so honored to have been part of this bright star, having traced its parabola, with inexpressible speed, through immeasurable space. Onto a new life, Cometeers, but never forget the old one.



This recording only captures a fraction of the frisson in the room: