It was an unlikely theatrical success— a musical about the middle section of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”— but Dave Malloy’s mash-up of indie rock and Russian folk music made it to Broadway in 2016, four years after its debut. At the 2017 Tony Awards, the show was nominated for 12 awards, more than any other show.
On September 3, the cast of “Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812” will perform its last show. The story of its demise is of a single-minded drive for diversity destroying art and opportunity.
When the show opened on Broadway in 2016, Josh Groban took over the role of Pierre originated by Malloy off-Broadway. The famous crooner put people in the seats in his first Broadway foray, and left large shoes to fill when he exited the show in July.
“The Great Comet” settled on Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan as Groban’s replacement. The African-American performer was best known for his impressive performance as Hercules Mulligan in “Hamilton,” but was not a household name like Groban. Box office performance slumped dangerously and the show’s producers started looking for a way to revive it.
In July, the producers announced Onaodowan had agreed to step aside for Broadway vet and household name Mandy Patinkin, who would step into the role of Pierre in an attempt to revive the quirky, $12 million production. An awkward maneuver became more public and more awkward when a social media uproar arose over casting a white actor to replace a black actor. There were also rumblings that Onaodowan had not been as fine with exiting the role as the producers’ public announcement suggested. Perhaps if producers had handled this shuffle more expertly, we wouldn’t be here, but the social media furor, not the casting itself, seemed to drive much of what followed.
The move became a symbol among some of a diversity problem on Broadway—this despite “The Great Comet’s” cast being celebrated for its diversity and the show’s director being an outspoken activist on behalf of “color-conscious” casting. The ensuing controversy chased off Patinkin, who didn’t want to be seen as displacing Onaodowan.
“My understanding of the show’s request that I step into the show is not as it has been portrayed …I would never accept a role knowing it would harm another actor,” Patinkin said on social media.
However, Great Comet was in free-fall as ticket sales continued to drop and the negative publicity persisted. Composer-lyricist Dave Malloy told followers in social media that the show was destined to close Labor Day weekend barring a drastic uptick in ticket sales. The show, which involved an extensive renovation of the theater and has a large cast, is expensive to run and had fallen below its minimum sales, allowing the Shubert Organization to book another show into the Imperial. It has returned to investors only a small percentage of its capitalization.
After Patinkin passed amid the firestorm, the show could find no other A-list actor to take the role. Producers announced the show would end Labor Day weekend without a boost in ticket sales. That boost did not come.
Now, the show critics called “rapturous,” “lucious,” and “wildly imaginative,” and its immersive and ambitious, 360-degree staging, will disappear from Broadway, and its diverse cast of actors will be out of their jobs. Was it worth it?
This is destruction in the name of diversity, and it hurts actors of color and white ones alike. Whether it’s a painting of Emmett Till or half-nude scupltures on Wellesley’s campus, the drive to punish artists for their problematic-ness is the opposite of the Left’s free-wheeling, radical, artistic self-conception. Liberals Against Quirky, Outside-the-Box Modern Art probably isn’t the movement these activists thought they were joining, and they should stop before they destroy anything else. The “Great Comet” could have kept on blazing and Americans of all colors would have benefited.