By: Sandi Durell

There’s a new theatrical sensibility that has been taking place in the theater world, especially off-Broadway. It’s immersion – the kind where the actors freely walk, talk and sing amongst us, on platforms, at our tables, roaming hither and yon. Think “Here Lies Love,” “Murder Ballad,” “Sleep No More.” Some, more interactive than others.

d326d640bc6bc0acc8f1c48d3837937bIn this particular production, originally seen at ArsNova (a much smaller venue) there are no speaking lines for this rewrite, by the very talented Dave Malloy (who also plays a title role of Pierre, the soused aristocrat in life crisis), in this reimagined Tolstoy classic “War and Peace.” And don’t think, for a moment, that there will be rhyme or lyrical patterns as the emphasis in putting music to dialogue lands wherever the chips may fall in this pop-rock fantasia.

Actually, this is a thin slice of the book – the love story between Natasha (a lustrous, innocuous Phillipa Soo), her vocals passionate and beautiful, and the gadabout Anatole (good looker with spiked hair Lucas Steele, a real rocker).

cb6c04e51f96d8e3a65a644f7ced056cThe location, in the meat-packing district, Kazino, was constructed solely for this production as a Russian supper club so the ticket price includes a meal of some dainty offerings (borscht, chicken, dumplings, shrimp, cookies and a drink – vodka at the bar is extra). Actually not bad for supper club food. Dah!

The red velvet curtained interior with photographs, wall sconces, gilded mirrors, chandelier and platforms running around the perimeter (all to the credit of designer Mimi Lien), create just the right atmosphere, although you might wind up with a sore neck from twisting/turning to watch the actors as they play in different parts of the room, maybe even sitting with you at your table, or my personal experience, being lightly embraced on my back. The musicians, too, are movable.

As the story unfolds, Natasha betrothed to Andrey (Blake DeLong who is off to war and not too often seen), comes to Moscow with her cousin Sonya (lovely soprano Brittain Ashford) to stay with Marya D. (Grace McLean – Natasha’s Godmother).

Don’t worry about trying to figure out who’s who, as the characters and the storyline are all laid out in the program. But there is a short musical overview from Pierre at the beginning that includes brief descriptions, i.e., “Natasha is young, Sonia is good, Anatole is hot” etc. etc.

Anatole is married, but, so what! His sexy, sensual sister Helene (Amber Gray), married to Pierre, would rather lead the young Natasha down the path of amorality, as she befriends her. There is pathos and delightful moments of joy that make the entire production outstanding based upon the talented group of young actors and great voices.

The beautiful costumes by Paloma Young speak lavishly of the period. The buoyant lighting that is everywhere, spotting the performers, is richly designed by Bradley King and sound design is by Matt Hubbs. Direction and musical staging by Rachel Chavkin is remarkable, aided by Sam Pinkleton’s brilliant choreography.

Other cast members include Paul Pinto (Balaga) as the carriage driver who helps in Natasha and Anatole’s great escape from Moscow in Act II; Gelsey Bell (Mary), Ian Lassiter (Dolokhov), and an ensemble: Nicholas Belton, Catherine Brookman, Luke Holloway, Azudi Onyejekwe, Mariand Torres, Lauren Zakrin, and a eight piece band under the direction of Or Matias.

Hurry on down to Kazino’s for an extraordinary theatrical experience at West 13th Street & Washington Street. Running time 2 hrs. 35 minutes. $125 dinner/show

Photos: Chad Batka

(877) 704-2821, thegreatcometof1812.com. Through Sept. 1st.