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Natasha and Juliet

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Two classic stories of young women flattened by love offer completely different theatre-going experiences, from a Shakespearian Verona beach house on Broadway to Tolstoy’s snowy Moscow off-.

Natasha and Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is a pop-musical slice of “War and Peace” with a side of Russian dinner theatre. The plain white tent under the Highline in the Meatpacking District is the home of Kazino, a custom-built theatre with tables on three levels, red velvet walls and copies of Russian paintings hung gallery style. Ticket-holders are seated at tables set with a shot of borscht; at showtime the actors appear with black bread, the traditional Russian way to greet a guest, and crispy vareniki. Four more scrummy dishes are delivered at intermission.

Meanwhile, the show and music swirl around two curvy stages and the tables on the floor. Characters sing in the first- and third-person, in some cases passages taken directly from the book, or in cutting updates that allow us the see them for what they really are (shame on you, Anatole!) Brittain Ashford‘s folksy “Sonya Alone” is a goose-bump inducing tribute to true friendship. Like Pierre, we’re left feeling hopeful and at least considering a read of the hefty original text.

Romeo and Juliet” starring Orlando Bloom will surely draw a new generation to the Bard performed live. Custom cocktails in sippy cups and ill-advised packaged snacks are available for movie-going converts, and the ‘three hours traffic of the stage’ has been reduced to just over two. All the wit and hilarity Shakespeare intended is there, and perhaps more, delivered with great timing by a superbly talented cast. As the Nurse says, “Go, girl!”

“Natasha and Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” runs at Kazino until September 2 and may find a new home after that. “Romeo and Juliet” is in previews with opening night on September 19 at the Richard Rogers theatre until January 2014.

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