On November 16, during the matinee performance of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Scott Stangland was in his dressing room at the Imperial Theatre when he received a call from management. Stangland, who is the standby for Pierre—played by Josh Groban—learned soon after that he would be going on in one of the show’s starring roles that night.
“It was such a blur, and there was so much adrenaline, I might have blacked out half way through,” he says. “It definitely felt good when the show came down. It was quite something.” Created by Dave Malloy (Ghost Quartet, Preludes) and directed by Rachel Chavkin, The Great Comet is a 70-page slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace that puts audiences just inches away from the brash young lovers.
Stangland had just under two hours to get ready for the performance, but he had months of preparation and first-hand experience under his belt. The singing actor had played the role of Pierre previously, for the entirety of the pre-Broadway run at the American Repertory Theater—a performance that won him the IRNE Award. In spite of his familiarity with the show, he was surprised by the sudden rush of adrenaline he felt when he was told that Groban, who needed to rest his voice, would be stepping out of the show that night.
“When they told me, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of adrenaline to flush my face, and [thinking] ‘This is really happening,’” he says. “[Then] I just went into laser focus mode… Everyone around me was so great and gave me everything I needed.”
Stangland says that the moment he stepped out onto the stage at the Imperial, he felt the enormity of the packed Broadway house before him. “The first moment that I stepped onstage…” he recalls, unable to put the experience into words. “I expected it, because I’d walked up there and seen how huge the house is, it’s more than double the size of A.R.T., I expected that [feeling].
“But once the lights come down and the train starts moving, I didn’t have much time to think about how big the space was and so the familiarity of the cast around me and the material really supported me. I let it do the work and I didn’t have much time to think about how terrified I was.”
The character of Pierre not only sings and acts during Great Comet, but simultaneously plays the accordion and piano. Stangland, who is also a musician, says that he wasn’t too daunted by having to play instruments during the show. The actor made his Broadway debut playing a guitar, ukulele, percussion, and the mandolin onstage in Once—the show that brought him to New York City in 2012.
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 opened to widespread positive reviews on November 14, much to the excitement of the cast, crew, and creative team. “This reception has increased our joy of getting to do it for people every night,” says Stangland. The actor performed again as Pierre on November 17.