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Informing the  Berea and Baldwin Wallace University Communities Since 1913

The Exponent

Informing the  Berea and Baldwin Wallace University Communities Since 1913

The Exponent

Informing the  Berea and Baldwin Wallace University Communities Since 1913

The Exponent

Theatre students and alums shine in regional premiere of ‘Great Comet’

Jessi+Kirtley%2C+who+played+Natasha+in+Natasha%2C+Pierre%2C+and+the+Great+Comet+of+1812%2C+performs+on+stage.
Roger Mastroianni
Jessi Kirtley, who played Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” performs on stage.

 

Great Lakes Theater’s “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” recently closed its three-weekend run at the Hanna Theatre, marking an end to a years-long production process.  

Based on a 70-page excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s “War & Peace,” “Great Comet” centers on the lively Natasha and the melancholy Pierre. After arriving in Moscow, Russia, Natasha falls in love with another man while her fiancé is off at war. Meanwhile, Pierre tries to search for the meaning of life.  

This production marked the regional premiere of the Tony Award-winning “Great Comet,” originally written and composed by Lakewood native Dave Malloy. BW professor and director of musical theatre for the Great Lakes Theatre and the artistic team began preparing for this production for over a year.  

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“I think whenever you’re doing the first regional production on a show, you’re really starting essentially from scratch,” Bussert said. “So, you want it to be really special.”  

“Great Comet” fuses opera and electronic dance music to create a lively 1812 Moscow. Senior music theatre student Jessi Kirtley, who played Natasha, said that entrancing audiences were at the forefront of the cast’s mind every night.  

“There were challenges in the fact that it’s such an experimental piece to begin with,” Kirtley said. “The challenge was to figure out how we could get people on board with it and … really to buy into the world that we’re creating.”  

Bussert and the artistic team did extensive research on early nineteenth century Russia. BW’s chair of theatre and dance Jeff Herrmann designed the set for this show, and he said that his inspiration came from current and past Russian vodka rooms and tearooms.  

“The original production is very immersive, and we knew we wanted to create immersive experiences,” Herrmann said. “In the Hanna Theatre, we were trying to figure out a way to bring the audience as close to the stage as possible and make them feel like they are in a Russian tearoom.”   

This production of “Great Comet” has strong ties to BW, not only with its creative team but also with its cast and crew. The cast mainly comprises BW music theatre students and graduates handpicked by Bussert, who said that having the same training helped the cast quickly jump into rehearsals.  

“It’s fun to see different generations of this program not only interact but get to act on stage together, and I think that has made it very special,” Bussert said. “They’re taking a lot more risks than you would normally have if you hadn’t known the same vocabulary. We all have the same expectations because we all spent four years together.”  

Herrmann said he feels joy at seeing the BW graduates who are part of the stage management, sound and set painting team grow.  

“I get to see them doing what they’ve learned in the classroom and see them build their resumes and work on an actual production professionally,” Hermann said.  

Premiering in Boise, Idaho, at Idaho Shakespeare Festival, a sister theater to Great Lakes Theater, the cast and crew of “Great Comet” gained additional experience mounting this show in the outdoor amphitheater. This included stage lighting and weather-related challenges.  

“It was really awesome just to go out and do an internship like that, where I got to just see what career path I’m heading towards after BW and doing something that is so professional and outside of the educational type of setting,” Kirtley said.  

“There’s something about all of this where we all seem to be bonded in a more special way than I would say [about] a traditional show,” Bussert said. “I thought Cleveland audiences deserved to see a first-class production of it.”  

  

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