by Steve Nardoni
At first glance, I was under the impression that a showcase performance at Feinstein’s/54Below by the cast of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 would feature numbers from the show (which I would have loved). But I was thrilled to discover that I was being treated instead to a delicious mélange of music from artists who performed their own work or the work of others with skill, humor and brio. It was amazing to watch singers who had done at least seven shows of The Great Comet this past week come to a different venue and wow away the audience with their talent and enthusiasm. It reminded me of the 1954 version of A Star is Born when the club owner talks about the band that Garland sang with:
“They’re crazy people, you know. They blow their heads off here all night. Then instead of going to bed, they go to this little place . . . and blow their heads off there for themselves, for nothing!”
Most of the 15 songs were original, performed by the artists who composed the music and cast members. “Leviathon” (composed by Pearl Rhein) about the whaling life was a flourish of accordion and violin with 13 cast members trilling “row lads.” We were in a whale boat dashing behind a great beast, covered in salt spray.
The acapella and seemingly political This Is Not A Land of Kings (by Gelsey Bell and performed by Bell, Grace Mclean and Amber Gray) was highlighted by numerous light “tsks” and then brilliantly bellowed lyrics like “We will stand up with open wings to protect from fools, despots and lying kings . . . ” Another more obvious statement was delivered with “Pussy Power” (by Mary Page Nance and performed with several cast members) the 2017 version of “I Am Woman.” Yes the women were wearing pink pussy hats and defiance, while they rapped that they were “. . .fabulous, worthy and powerful.”
Moving 13 people and instruments to the stage after four people vacated from the previous set (called by the cast the “awkward transition”) was lighthearted and good fun to watch. The plethora of instruments these people played was astounding: piano, guitar, banjo, cello, accordion, violin, saxophone, trombone, and trumpet.
Only a few of the songs failed to hit the mark. The unfortunate “Good for Goodness” by Brittain Ashford was dirge-like and interminable. But on balance the team delivered.
Two more notables: “Jesse and Zach” (by Grace Mclean) was a terrifically delivered rendition of passages from her fifth grade diary. “I like Jesse and I like Zach” was sung live with hysterical repetitive support from a loop machine. “Here and Heaven” (by Scott Stangland) was sweet harmony from voice and instruments.
Enthusiasm. Broadway voices. Pride of clever composition. Talent. This group just keeps hopping from one comet to the next!
Cast Members of the Great Comet. Presented February 27 at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th, Between Eighth and NInth Avenues. www.54below.com