The Great Comet Creators Talk Life After Opening the Fall’s Hit Musical

News   The Great Comet Creators Talk Life After Opening the Fall’s Hit Musical
Director Rachel Chavkin and writer Dave Malloy on why The Great Comet works on Broadway, maintaining the show, and more epic projects to come.
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Dave Malloy and Rachel Chavkin Monica Simoes

This year’s Ars Nova gala, the Nova Ball Remix, felt a lot like a certain Russian vodka den—Tito's included. The non-profit theatre organization had a lot to celebrate, including its Broadway debut with the critically acclaimed Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.

The evening captured two themes: Ars Nova’s ability to make unconventional and impossible theatre possible, and the fact that Ars Nova is a family—the kind that provides unquestioning support. With their help, director Rachel Chavkin and writer Dave Malloy were empowered to keep moving forward with The Great Comet until it landed at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre. The Great Comet made waves at Ars Nova, in terms of what theatre could be, with its immersive feel, contemporization of opera, and wrangling of one of the greatest pieces of literature in history. Still, the small non-profit venue seemed a more apropos home for “risky” theatre. Since its opening November 14, the duo has challenged the status quo of what Broadway theatre is.

“I never thought anything wasn’t Broadway,” says Chavkin. “I think that some of the most commercial, viral things in the world are impossible sh*t—some stuff that is the most experimental, far out, psychedelic. So I think that’s a false dichotomy in terms of what I would say is acceptable [for Broadway] and what is not.”

“The miracle is that we did it at Ars Nova,” says Malloy. “The fact that we managed to squeeze that enormous epic story into that tiny space and that they gave so many resources to make that happen, that was the miracle version. Every time we stepped it up, it’s become more of what it always wanted to be.”

“Tolstoy was not afraid of size,” joked Chavkin.

And neither are these two creatives. Next, Chavkin and Malloy tackle a musical adaptation of Moby Dick and, separately, Shakespeare’s King Henry. “It’s adapted from Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts one and two and Henry V,” says Chavkin. On top of that, both have their own individual projects.

Malloy is reviving his Beardo, another Russian story, this time about Rasputin. The show, with music by Malloy and book and lyrics by Jason Craig, premiered in Berkeley, CA. Craig and Malloy are working on revisions for a new production to be mounted in February at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

As for Chavkin, her collaboration with songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown, rocked New York Theatre Workshop this past summer. While there’s no official news on that front, rumblings are that it will get another life. Through Ars Nova, Chavkin is also collaborating with Heather Christian on a musical adaptation of Mac Wellman’s novel Annie Salem. It’s described as “a novel of the absurd” about a philosophical drifter from Ohio whose observations include musings on life, women, and friendship and obsessions, which include the KKK—which he hates.

One thing’s for sure, be it The Great Comet, Moby Dick, Beardo, or Annie Salem, convention isn’t here.

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