By MARYANNA ANTOLDI
Asst. Arts & Culture Co-Editor
It isn’t every day that you take part in the recording of an original cast album for a Broadway show. However, for 500 lucky people including myself, that distant dream came to life. On Monday, “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” Broadway’s latest Russian-inspired musical sensation, allowed fans to record parts of the album along with members of the cast.
“The Great Comet” is an extremely unique musical based on a 70-page section of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” where Natasha (Denée Benton), a young Russian countess, falls in love with Anatole (Lucas Steele), a rugged playboy, despite her engagement to another man. Pierre (Josh Groban), a reclusive older man, is married to Anatole’s sister and is thrust into the scandal and drama against his will. Hosted in the Imperial Theater, the play transports audiences into 19th century Russia through an interactive experience that they will never forget. The opportunity to participate in the cast album was posted last week on “The Great Comet’s” Facebook page, allowing fans to sign up to show interest in the event. No musical talent was required, so naturally I chose to give it a shot. Luckily, I was one of the fans selected to join.
The event was held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, just blocks away from the Fordham Lincoln Center campus. Everyone gathered and formed a line outside of the doors, which quickly roped around the side of the building, and we eagerly waited in freezing temperatures for the recording to start. At 6 p.m., the doors opened, everyone signed in, and it was time to begin.
Everyone was directed to a table, where staff laid out different paper with vocal ranges on it for us to choose from—Alto and Soprano for women, and Bass and Tenor for men. This part was my only real criticism for the event—when advertised that no musical knowledge would be required, many people blindly chose a paper because they did not know their vocal range, some confused by the terminology itself.
Everyone was then directed to an auditorium-like room, where on the stage sat the recording gear, a piano and some music stands. We all took our seats and were given shakers— small, egg-shaped containers with beads inside—that we would need for one of the songs.
After a few minutes of waiting for everyone to file in, Jimmi Mitchell and Tommy Nolan, the hosts of the “Jim and Tomic’s Musical Happy Hour” podcast, entered the room. The duo had spoken to the cast all day during their individual recording sessions, and they essentially raved with the audience about both the cast’s musical ability and the play itself.
Everyone in the room was a fan of the musical, and having an open space to discuss aspects of it with other enthusiasts already made the experience a special one. The two were clever and witty, and they never failed to make the audience smile and laugh, easily captivating the room.
However, the real fun began when Dave Malloy, the creator of the musical, and Josh Groban entered the room. The two were full of energy, welcoming the fans with just as much enthusiasm as we had for them. They began the recording session with a quick Q&A, where fans asked questions ranging from Malloy’s inspiration for the play to Groban’s favorite thing about performing on Broadway. Both were extremely genial and charismatic, willing to answer any and all forms of questions with genuine interest and curiosity.
The actual recording process was extremely simple. The process took place in three steps: learning the music, practicing with a rough track (Malloy’s own recording of each song), and finally recording the sound. Malloy began with “Balaga,” one of the most upbeat songs on the album, where we simply sang part of the chorus and learned to use our shakers accordingly. Next was one of the longest songs on the album, “The Duel,” where Malloy simply required cheers of applause. The last and final song was everyone’s favorite of the evening—”Goodbye My Gypsy Lovers.” A heartfelt farewell with classic Russian sounds of the accordion and violin, Malloy had everyone sing the chorus, the sopranos and tenors harmonizing with the altos and the basses. Malloy and Groban were incredibly charismatic and helpful throughout the process, in awe that an audience that had little to no musical experience was able to come together and sing as one, cohesive unit in such a short amount of time. Ensemble members Alex Gibson and Katrina Yaucey were also adding their own talents to the process, assisting Malloy and Groban wherever necessary. The session ended with thunderous applause as the two musicians left to continue their own recording.
To sing on a Broadway cast album was a dream that I never thought possible. But, thanks to the cast of “The Great Comet,” my dream, and the dreams of many others, became a reality.