Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is a musical based on Leo Tolstoy’s notoriously long novel War and Peace. The entire musical was written by Dave Malloy, and it won many awards. The music itself takes influence from many different genres, but is described by Malloy as an “electro-pop opera.” Though only taking inspiration from about seventy out of nearly one thousand pages, it gained popularity during its runtime beginning in 2012. However, the musical closed in 2017 due to controversy with the cast.
The beginning of this controversy started with Josh Groban, the original Broadway actor for Pierre, resigned from his role. Months prior to this, it was announced that Okieriete Onaodowan, who previously played in Hamilton, would be taking on the role. No one opposed this, but from this point onward it went downhill with problems springing up left and right. It started out with something simple. Onaodowan didn’t know how to play piano or accordion, instruments Pierre is supposed to play in the show, so he had to learn how. In the end, his starting time was delayed, and he didn’t even play either instrument. This created a rift as many people on the team felt that he didn’t work quickly enough and that he resisted instruction from Rachel Chavkin. Now, this is where it truly began. Most likely due to how much of the staff felt about Mr. Onaodowan and that they needed more star power, they began quietly searching for someone to replace him. They found, what was to them, just the right person: Mandy Patinkin.
Patinkin is a renowned Broadway and TV actor. He was a fan of the Great Comet and close with Ms.Chavkin, and he hadn’t been on broadway for seventeen years, which meant his comeback would be a big thing. The only problem? Onaodowan was still on the show, so to solve this little problem, they gave him his last three weeks off with pay. This isn’t an unusual thing to do, but everyone on the internet was enraged by this decision. This is because of a small issue; their race.
Racism is nothing new on Broadway. It’s practically been a staple in the industry, which is why this was turned into such a big deal. Onaodowan is black. Patinkin is white. Obviously, this was going to be made into a race issue and said issue lead to the downfall of the show. Though many have differing opinions on the situation.
As the authors of this article, we believe that this has been blown out of proportion. The circumstances that Onaodowan was put in by the directors were not unusual for Broadway. In fact, this happened in the Great Comet before with Brittain Ashford, who played Sonya, being replaced by Ingrid Michaelson for the summer. It wasn’t a problem when that happened, so why was it a problem with Onaodowan and Patinkin? Well, like we already said it was because of their race. This whole thing was never about race, though. It was about a struggling show that was just trying to stay afloat by bringing in a known star in an attempt to boost sales. Wouldn’t you do the same?