New York

“Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” to Close in September After Casting Controversy

Dave Malloy's electropop opera "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812," is closing on Broadway — just two months after its star, Josh Groban, left the production as Pierre and two weeks after the show found itself embroiled in an casting controversy over his replacement.

The musical, based on a 70-page section of Tolstoy's "War and Peace," will play its final of 32 previews and 336 regular performances at the Imperial Theatre on Sept. 3.

It's a bittersweet ending for the critically-acclaimed production, which opened to rave reviews in November of last year and was nominated for 12 Tony Awards including Best Musical (more than any other show this season). But sadly, without a star at the helm to drive "Great Comet," the show was not taking home enough money to both cover operating costs and pay back its investors.

As of last week, the immersive musical took in $875,614 — far below the roughly $1.2 million a week it was making with Groban's name above the title.

That's the reason producers had hoped to bring Tony winner (and theater legend) Mandy Patinkin for a three-week run in the show, in what would be his first role on Broadway in 17 years.

Earlier in July, they tried a similar tactic to some success — bringing in singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson to play Natasha’s cousin Sonya. She departs Aug. 13, when Brittain Ashford (who originated the role of Sonya and stepped aside for Michaelson's run) returns to the part.

Sadly for them, Patinkin — who created Che in "Evita" and George in "Sunday in the Park with George" — backed out over controversy that he, a white actor, would be kicking "Hamilton" alum Okieriete "Oak" Onaodowan, a black actor, out of the role during the last three weeks of Onadowan's previously-announced nine-week run. 

The outrage, which started and spread on Twitter, had many including Tony winner Cynthia Erivo claiming that the show's producers were making a decision based on race and that Onaodowan had not been given enough time to succeed before he was replaced by a bigger name and white actor. 

Producers denied the allegations and put forward a statement of sorrow to both Onaodowan and Patinkin — telling News 4 New York, "We regret our mistake deeply, and wish to express our apologies to everyone who felt hurt and betrayed by these actions."

But Malloy knew the writing was on the wall, tweeting to fans that without "a name" involved in the piece to draw the crowds, it would likely be closing. "The show was in desperate shape; sales...were catastrophically low," Malloy wrote. "I am not sure that the show has a future now." 

"Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" premiered at the off-Broadway Ars Nova Theater in 2012, with direction from Rachel Chavkin and a cast including "Hamilton" star Phillipa Soo. The show moved to spaces in the Meatpacking District and Times Square between 2013 and 2014, and had an out-of-town staging at Boston’s American Repertory Theater.

In July, Actors’ Equity awarded it a prize for “extraordinary excellence in diversity on Broadway."

As for who will play Pierre after Onaodowan departs the production on Aug. 3, the casting will be split. The show's standby, Scott Stangland, will first assume the role from Aug. 15 - Aug. 20. Malloy will then step back into the leading role (which he originated Off Broadway) for the final two weeks of performances.

Those with tickets after Sept. 3 can contact their point of purchase for refunds and exchanges.

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