This year's leader in Tony nominations, "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812," has a lot in common with last year's leader, "Hamilton."
Like its predecessor, "Great Comet" takes an unlikely story, a diverse cast and a fusion of musical styles, and turns them into a runaway Broadway hit.
The musical earned 12 nominations this morning, including one for its star, Josh Groban, the 36-year-old mega-recording star who is making an acclaimed Broadway debut. Two other cast members, Denee Benton and Lucas Steele, and much of the creative team also earned nods.
That's short of the 16 nominations (with 11 wins) that "Hamilton" earned last year, but it's still an impressive total for first-time director Rachel Chavkin and the show's creator Dave Malloy.
Inspired by Tolstoy
The offbeat pop opera is based on a 70-page section of Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace." "I immediately thought they [producers] would shoot down the idea," Malloy told guest host Alison Stewart on PBS's "Charlie Rose." Instead, producers at the 87-seat Ars Nova Theater in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood were game. From the Ars Nova, the show was staged in two tents in Manhattan, then the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before finally heading to Broadway, where it sold out in previews.
While making its way to Broadway, the show was drawing fans, including one very famous one. After seeing an off-Broadway performance in 2013, Groban raved about it on Twitter. "One of my most favorite theatrical experiences ever. LOVED," he wrote. When he heard the show was coming to Broadway, Groban reached out to producers. Performing on Broadway had always been a "childhood dream," and though he'd received other offers, nothing felt right until "Great Comet." "I wanted to bring something new," he told "CBS Sunday Morning."
To play the lead role of Pierre, Groban had to learn to play the accordion, which he picked up while on his concert tour. He took his accordion, affectionately named Olga, with him to New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and more. "I wanted to make sure it was known right off the bat that I was coming to this world with the maximum amount of respect for it," he told CBS.
To keep the show's intimate feel, Chavkin transformed Broadway's Imperial Theater into Imperial Russia, removing 200 seats to create an intimate supper club for 1,200 that allows the cast to roam the entire theater and the audience to feel like they are part of the show.
Groban has sold over 25 million records worldwide but his award shelf is surprisingly "barren," he told CBS. If he wins the Tony, this would be his first award. It would be a nice prize to take with him when he leaves the show July 2. "Hamilton" star Oak Onaodowan, who originated the roles of Hercules Mulligan, will then take over the role of Pierre.