Broadway’s ‘Great Comet’ Will Close in Wake of Casting Controversy

Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet
Chad Batka

The Broadway musical “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” will close Sept. 3, following a turbulent couple of weeks that saw the show engulfed in a controversy over a last-minute recasting of one of the title roles.

The production’s shaky financial straits came to light in the outcry that arose after Mandy Patinkin was cast for a three-week run in “Great Comet,” effectively cutting off the previously announced engagement of Okieriete Onaodowan in the role of Pierre. Producers had attempted to hustle Patinkin into the part in an effort to shore up the production’s sales following the July 2 exit of Josh Groban, whose 8½-month engagement had kept the show earning more than $1 million a week for the majority of its run.


Mandy Patinkin

Why Mandy Patinkin Exited Broadway’s ‘Great Comet’ Before He Even Started

Patinkin, a musical-theater legend who doesn’t show up on Broadway often these days, would have been a significantly bigger box office draw than Onaodowan, best known for his standout turn in a supporting role in “Hamilton.” But the move to cut short a run by a young African-American actor in favor of an older white performer raised a social-media firestorm over questions of diversity and representation.

Days after the controversy broke, Patinkin pulled out of “Great Comet” — leaving the show without a star to drive sales. As the musical’s creator, Dave Malloy, noted on Twitter, the production’s advance sales following the Aug. 13 exit of singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson looked grim, threatening a closure.

“Great Comet” was always something of a risky bet for Broadway, given its downtown aesthetic, quirky electropop score and an immersive staging that required a pricey reconfiguration of the Imperial Theater. But Groban’s long run in the show ensured the production never had an unprofitable week while he was in it, and it was hoped the attention he’d brought to the title could help the production establish a firmer foothold. Publicity during the run-up to the Tony Awards, along with a well-received production number on the Tony telecast, seem like they also might have helped bring in curious theatergoers. “Great Comet” led the Tony nominations list with 12 nods, and walked away with trophies for set and lighting design.

Some industry observers wonder how a show that’s never had an unprofitable week could prove to be in such a dire financial situation. The show’s producers, led by Howard and Janet Kagan, offered no comment on the closing.

Onaodowan’s run in “Great Comet” finishes Aug. 13, which would have been his final performance before Patinkin started his run. Scott Stangland will play Pierre Aug. 15-20, with Malloy, who originated the role of Pierre in the musical’s Off Broadway premiere, stepping into the part for the final run of performances Aug. 22-Sept. 3.


Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 14


    Leave a Reply


    Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s

    1. J Boston says:

      What this article doesn’t explain, and I’m not surprised by this at all, is the fact that Okieriete Onaodowan never grew into the role as expected. Ticket sales under his lead were pathetic, to say the least, and so the decision was made to bring in someone who could actually act and lead the case. This wasn’t a move based on racism. It was a decision based on business. For the black community to get upset over this is nauseating, if not unexpected.

    2. James Hall says:

      I’m starting to really understand how social media maybe the worst thing to ever come upon our society. To give a voice to every last person in every crevice of our society is ultimately not a good thing. Think electoral college. The founding fathers debated endlessly over this point. Knowing that too many voices can ultimately lead to anarchic and chaotic conditions. Well, we’re in it. You have minorities suddenly dictating the rules that the majority live under due to the fact we are a democratic/capitalistic society and corporate entities are compelled to try and please everyone. No one gets anywhere in conditions like this, including the minorities.

    3. Drew says:

      Anyone sick of race baiting and the slavery of PC?

    4. Jean Green says:

      Nobody could have played that part better than Okieriete Onaodowan. We’d bought tickets expecting to see Josh Groban (whom i love). Having only heard of Okieriete Onaodowan via his role in “Hamilton,” i’d have to say that he is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. And Mandy Patinkin (my lifetime Broadway love) would have paled in comparison. JMO! And ifff there’s an iota of politics connected to the cancellation of this show, i’d say, “Shame on the Broadway industry” for not having the courage of their everywhere one looks/hears/sees “artistic convictions.”

    5. Joan G says:

      I am saddened that a wonderful show with one of the most diverse casts on Broadway was destroyed by lies. So here are some truths: 1- Oak had five months to prepare. Yet, he was not ready for the role on July 3rd. Therefore, his debut was pushed back a week. He was a disappointment at the box office and in the role. 2- Oak replaced Josh Groban, who was not a man of color. No complaints there. 3- The replacement was always intended to be a place holder until a new lead was found. 4- To boost sales, Ingrid Michaelson replaced Britain Ashford temporarily during the same timeframe. Neither actress is a woman of color. No outcry ensued there, even though Britain originated the role on Broadway and performed in its off Broadway incarnations. 5- The Great Comet’s casting was always color blind. Natasha, the female lead, and Helene, Pierre’s wife are women of color. 6- Anatole (Natasha’s love interest) is snow white and platinum haired. 7- The rest of the performers fit in various shades of the rainbow, leading The Great Comet (along with two other shows) to be the recipient of the Extraordinary Excellence in Diversity Award on Broadway. 8- Oak seemed please to be getting paid not to work three weeks, until Blacklash and others encouraged him to cry casting controversy. 9- Shame on social media and professional publications for spreading a false story. What happened to fact checking? 10- Shame on all those who bought into the story, especially, the great Mr. Patinkin, who in the end, brought the show to its abrupt demise….. and 11- the saddest truth of all is that approximately 40 talented, hard working, actors, musicians, technicians, and supporting staff of diverse ethnicity will be out of a job….. all because the lie was more titillating that the truth. What a very sad and shameful turn of events.

    6. Heather says:

      So thankful I booked months ago. I don’t care who plays Pierre – all the cast look fantastic in what looks to be a fantastic show

    7. Ozstock says:

      Cynthia Erivo has a lot to answer over this, she made the whole thing about race and fired up a race storm along with it. She may have talent, but she is one very racist person.

    8. CJB says:

      Any producer with half a brain would jump at the chance of bringing in M Patinkin.
      Sorry they let a gaggle of simple minded trolls scare them off.
      It’s nonsense like this that’s killiig entertainment.

    9. Sushi says:

      Now everyone’s out of a job because a few Tweeters hit offended.
      What a crock of s@$t.

    10. DazedandConfused says:

      Generally, those in this craft tend to be out of the box in almost all ways. Certainly race and age are seldom even acknowledged, in my understanding. The stage has been The Place where such factors are ignored and only Talent matters. The end product matters. I have long admired that stage actors as a whole seem so evolved compared to those of us that witness these issues daily. So I am confounded and disappointed by this perception that race was a reason, worse that it was The Reason. To say this is about race is to make a mockery of true racism. Racism is real and it needs to be addressed. To catagorize this as a race issue is to diminish the real struggles so many have endured.

      It’s Mandy Patinkin. It isn’t because he’s white. It’s because he’s a legend.

    11. So, the show essentially had to close, putting people out of work, because it wasn’t politically correct to have a black actor replaced by a much better known white actor. Incredible.

    12. cowgirldiva says:

      It’s that OLD, TIRED Black/White THING again..!! It’s old and tired and most people are sick to death of hearing about it..!! So, “The Show Must Go On” just does not apply anymore because somebody might get offended….!! YAWN….!!!

    More Legit News from Variety