By SHARON EBERSON
Pittsburgh CLO concludes its summer season tonight with a splash in a very splash season – the 77-year-old company’s first production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, an immersive hit that earned 12 Tony Award nominations in 2016, winning for scenic and lighting designs.
CLO’s staging will necessarily be different, on a proscenium versus that rare Broadway staging, which had ensemble members moving among surrounding audience members, including some seated at onstage tables.
However, on social media, CLO has advanced images that may indicate some movement in the aisles, as well as elegant illumination of Dave Malloy’s modernist, sung-through show, inspired by a 70-page snippet of the Tolstoy epic War and Peace.
In the retelling, with an innovative pop/rock score, naive Natasha falls for the attractive rebel Anatole, while her betrothed Andrey is off fighting for Russia in the Napoleonic Wars. It is left to Pierre, a family friend in the midst of an existential crisis, to pick up the pieces of Natasha’s shattered reputation.
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 ends a significant summer for Pittsburgh CLO, as it finishes up at the Benedum Center and quickly turns around to reopen the remodeled Greer Cabaret with tick, tick … BOOM! on September 22.
Reflecting on CLO’s Summer of ’23, there were no national tour stops based on CLO’s Broadway investments, nor were there partnerships with other companies – such as last year’s Sister Act, which went on to Kansas City Starlight. Instead, it’s been six shows, each two weeks apart, Tuesday through Sunday, all produced – as executive producer Mark Fleischer has constantly reminded audiences – “for Pittsburgh, by Pittsburgh, and in partnership with Pittsburgh.”
The company continues to attract big-name Broadway and screen stars, to be sure, many of whom have played here in the past, or who trace their early careers to a CLO summer, or who, like Joe Serafini in Into the Woods, go as far back as CLO Mini Stars.
The handful of newcomers to Pittsburgh CLO this summer include the current show’s Natasha, Sandra Okuboyejo, a multidisciplinary stage and screen artist. Her Anatole, Jason Gotay, made his Broadway debut in the original company of Bring It On: the Musical and had the title role in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, among other stage roles. On screen, he most recently starred in HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot. As Sonya Rostova, Kennedy Caughell, a swing and more in the original run of Natasha on Broadway, also makes her CLO debut. Sonya is Natasha’s cousin, closest friend and goddaughter to Marya Dmitryevna (Natascia Diaz). Sonya is described as “good,” while Billy Cohen plays the good soldier Andrey. As Pierre, Carnegie Mellon University alum Nick Rehberger’s Broadway credits include The Glass Menagerie and Fiddler on the Roof.
Throughout the season, we have seen a consistent casting mix that Pittsburgh CLO has been known for: stars from Broadway, Hollywood and throughout the regions – with and without Pittsburgh ties – along with cast and ensemble members who make their living on local stages, and newcomers out of local colleges, some who have studied since childhood with CLO Mini Stars or at CLO Academy.
It’s always fun to check your CLO program for familiar names, and for potential stars of the future. In previous 2023 productions, Jeff Howell, Christine Laitta, Brady D. Patsy, Alex Manalo, LaTrea Rembert, Allan Snyder, Michael Greer and other familiar faces have graced the Benedum Center stage.
Starting tonight, Pittsburghers Lauren Yen Solito and David Toole are swings in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet … Carnegie Mellon is widely represented among the ensemble, where Austin Schulte represents Point Park University, Mathew Fedorek, Penn State (and CLO Academy), and fellow ensemble member Alexander Podolinski arrives after roles with Westmoreland Performing Arts and Front Porch Theatricals.
Capping the summer with Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, perhaps the least-known among the six shows, is a daring exclamation point to a season that was for Pittsburgh only. Yet it comes to end with a partnership in sight: a co-production of City Theatre’s season-opening musical, Brian Quijada’s Somewhere Over the Border.
The summer may be coming to an end, but Pittsburgh CLO keeps the music and musicals coming.
TICKETS AND DETAILS
Pittsburgh CLO’s production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is at the Benedum Center, Downtown, August 22-27. Visit https://pittsburghclo.culturaldistrict.org/production/82491/natasha-pierre-and-the-great-comet-of-1812 or call the box office at 412-456-6666.