‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812’ set to light up Pioneer Theatre

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, April 30, 2024 (Gephardt Daily) — Audiences can enjoy another Utah premiere at Pioneer Theatre this spring as “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” lights up the stage.

The show, written by Dave Molloy, plays from May 10-25 at the theater at 300 S. 1400 East. The 12-time Tony Award nominated musical is described as follows: “‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812’ is an electro-pop opera based on a scandalous slice of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace.’ Young and impulsive, Natasha Rostova arrives in Moscow to await the return of her fiancé from the front lines. When she falls under the spell of the roguish Anatole, it is up to Pierre, a family friend, to pick up the pieces of her shattered reputation. This award-winning musical, with its daring score and bold storytelling — including eight onstage actor/musicians (part of an overall cast of 20) — is one of the most requested titles from audiences in recent memory and will be presented in an immersive format never before seen at PTC!”

Starring in the show as Natasha is New York-based actor Ali Ewoldt. Born outside Chicago and raised 45 minutes north of New York City in the small village of Pleasantville, Ewoldt made her Broadway debut as Cosette in the first Broadway revival of “Les Misérables” and starred as Christine in “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway for over two years including during the show’s 30th Anniversary celebration. 

Ewoldt’s mother was born and raised in the Philippines, which made Ali the first Asian-American woman to play Christine on Broadway.

Ewoldt also appeared as Maria in “West Side Story” in the national tour that began in 2010, as well as in Lincoln Center’s Tony Award winning revival of “The King and I” and as Luisa in “The Fantasticks” Off-Broadway, which is the world’s longest running musical.

Other credits include: “The Secret Garden” at Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, “Chicago,” “1776,” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at The Muny in St. Louis, “Guys and Dolls” at Sacramento Music Circus, McCarter Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” and a one-woman adaptation of “Anne of Green Gables” Off-Broadway. She also performed her solo cabaret at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York. Her TV and film credits include “The Michael J. Fox Show,” “Yield,” “Drama: The Web Series” and the short film “Mia.” Ewoldt has a BA in psychology from Yale University.

Ali Ewoldt and Bennett Chew with company members in Natasha Pierre the Great Comet of 1812 Photo BW Productions

We chatted to Ewoldt over the phone Wednesday, and asked her what it was like to have her first show on Broadway be “Les Misérables.”

“It was remarkable in so many ways,” she said. “I mean, ‘Les Misérables’ was basically the first show that I memorized from beginning to end as a child; there unfortunately is video evidence of that. Me performing the entire Chain Gang, etcetera. So when I was cast on the tour, it was sort of a remarkable dream come true; I was cast at the very end of the third national tour, so it did come from the original production. And I joined the ensemble understudying Cosette and I got to sing all the songs that I’d been familiar with as a kid as my job. I got to play; there’s so much great ensemble work in that show. So getting to play, I mostly was in the ensemble, a quote Bullet Boy Barricade, who I named Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim and his brother Tam would run around and wreak havoc on the Barricade.

“Then, while we were on tour, they told us that they were shutting down the tour but opening a new Broadway revival and that we could all audition for it. And so between Cleveland and Cincinnati, they flew those of us who wanted to audition back to New York. We auditioned with the material that we had been performing, which was complicated and fraught and also exciting. It was the first time I auditioned for a Broadway show. And then we got back to working and I ended up getting a callback so I had to come back from Cincinnati, but trying to keep it under wraps because not everyone in our production was called back. And they cast those of us who were doing the revival while we were still out on tour and had a few months to go. And so it was so exciting, but also, so many people I cared about on tour wanted that job and didn’t get it, and so it was a bit tempered by kind of the reality of what the business is and how you’re rooting for your friends; sometimes you get things and sometimes they get things. But I was able to close the tour as Cosette which was wonderful.”

She added: “And so coming into the Broadway revival, there were a handful of us from the tour, including my Marius, Adam Jacobs. And so having kind of that confidence from having played the part, knowing some folks, knowing the show really well, I think really tempered my impostor syndrome, going into a cast of people that I had admired since I was a kid; you know, Daphne Rubin-Vega, who I remember being obsessed with on the ‘Rent’ soundtrack, and Norm Lewis who actually had given me an award when I was in high school. I won a high school musical theater award and he was the celebrity Broadway person that came in to give me the award; all of these things. I think it really helped that I had a great knowledge already of the show and understanding the role and all of that, I think, kept me afloat in that very intimidating rehearsal process.”

The company of Natasha Pierre the Great Comet of 1812 Photo BW Productions

We also asked Ewoldt how she paced herself when she played Christine in “Phantom of the Opera” and also when she toured extensively as Maria in “West Side Story.”

“Christine, was, again, sort of a childhood dream come true,” Ewoldt explained. “I had seen the show for the first time when I was 10. And had always dreamt of playing that part as a as a young soprano. There were only so many aspirational roles on Broadway, of new or current musicals. And so Christine was always at the top of the list. And it took me a long time. I auditioned for the show for about 10 years, and different iterations before I actually booked it. I auditioned for Vegas, and the tour, and Broadway, and the tour. Sometimes there would be years in between auditions. There would be multiple callbacks. And so when I finally booked it, there was this great sense of, you know, I really worked for that and also because of getting to play Cosette and getting to play Maria, I already understood how to come into an existing company and how to do that sort of pacing of understanding a character arc, how not to oversing, where to really work on my self care. And I think that’s been a long process and an ever evolving process of, when do I need to just stay home and be silent? When do I say: ‘actually I’m not feeling 100%? I’ve got a great understudy, let me stay home and get well.’ Sort of long-term lessons, especially when playing giant roles.”

Ewoldt said she would never forget her first day playing Christine.

“We had almost a week on stage because there was so much sort of stagecraft and climbing on things to learn before I went into the show, and they said, OK, so you’re now at the foot of this ladder and take your dress, your negligee, and you’re gonna throw it over your shoulder, and in your heels [climb]… nobody checked to see if I was afraid of heights. Luckily, I’m not.”

Ewoldt also talked about starring in the show “Gold Mountain” here in Utah. The world premiere of Jason Ma’s musical opened in November 2021 at the West Valley Performing Arts Center as part the Utah Shakespeare Festival. “Gold Mountain” tells the story of a team of Chinese railroad workers building the world’s first transcontinental railroad, whose lives are changed with the arrival of one woman, played by Ewoldt.

Edward Juvier and Ali Ewoldt in Natasha Pierre the Great Comet of 1812 Photo BW Productions

“So, many years ago, I was doing a show in New York and I met this amazing actor, Jason Ma,” she explained. “And after we did the show, he said: ‘you know what, I wrote this musical a long time ago.’ He was doing ‘Miss Saigon;’ he was in the original cast of ‘Miss Saigon’ and he was inspired to write a musical, based on history and a little bit of his family history. And he said, you know: ‘I put it in a box because I was like, I don’t think anyone could play this part. And I don’t know what to do with it anymore.’ When we performed in this show together, he was inspired to sort of pull the box back out from under the bed and revisit the show. And so I got to play this role of Mei, the lead role in ‘Gold Mountain,’ in a number of developmental workshops and concerts and readings in New York.

“And then we got to bring it here first, to be part of the Golden Spike celebration in reading form and then finally to do a full production at the West Valley Performing Arts Center. And it was so satisfying, especially because Jason had written the show such a long time ago and to finally get to see it on its feet, and it’s a really incredible story of the Chinese railroad workers who helped build the trans-Pacific railroad and their struggles and their joys and how they survived the very harsh conditions. And it’s so tied to the history of Utah. We’re very connected to the Chinese American descendants of the railroad workers. And so it felt really exciting to bring this historical, epic musical with gorgeous songs and humor and have that here and to perform it.”

She also talked about the character she plays in “Natasha & Pierre.”

“So I play Natasha Rostova, she has many names, also Natalie, and Natalia, as one did in Russia in 1812,” she said. “It is based on a small chunk of ‘War and Peace.’ And so Natasha is a young woman coming of age in Moscow. We catch her in the middle of her story where she has one romance, and then he goes away to war. And she kind of gets wrapped up into society and wealth, and has to find her way through and find her own choices and what her ultimate romance is; it’s very coming of age. And Pierre’s story kind of starts in a different place, and they get to find each other in the middle.”

The company of Natasha Pierre the Great Comet of 1812 including Ali Ewoldt on the right Photo BW Productions

We asked her how rehearsals are going so far.

“Rehearsals are going very well,” she said. “It’s a really challenging score. It might be the most challenging score I’ve ever worked on. But Dave Malloy wrote the music, not as much as a musical theater sensibility; there are elements of opera and pop. And there are these amazing tracks that are almost like a techno track that sometimes we sing to. It’s sung-through, so in the way of ‘Les Mis,’ there’s a lot of recitatives kind of throughout, but it’s a chunk of material. Our cast is amazing; Kevin Earley [Pierre], I worked with many, many years ago, on a production of ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’ and he’s so fantastic, and we’re really excited to get to reunite on this. We have an amazing mix of Broadway folks and New York folks and amazing locals, and then we have students too. They’ve been amazing and it’s exciting for us to get to sort of pass on knowledge to them as well about the business. All of them are just graduating right now. They’re excited to get to work and put all their studies to use onstage and a lot of them are playing instruments in the show. There’s a lot of instrumentalists that are also the singers and actors; exciting elements together.”

We also asked Ewoldt what her dressing room essentials are.

“I always have my make-up-ey things, but I have a collection of different things for my voice like a steamer or a nebulizer to kind of keep me hydrated,” she said. “Always some sort of array of tea. Generally something with ginger; Throat Coat, that’s soothing. All of the water bottles. And then I have pictures of my family, my husband, and I feel like I have a collection of little gifts that people gave that I carry around to remember all the great things I’ve got to do and people that I love.”

Ewoldt said she doesn’t usually bring her 9-pound, 12-year old toy poodle mix backstage with her, but “she’s got her little princess pillow, she listens to classical music while I’m away.”

After “Natasha & Pierre,” Ewoldt is heading to New York for a couple of weeks for a job, then up to Connecticut for about a month-and-a-half, for two projects that have not officially been announced yet.

For more information on “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” and for tickets, click here. For more information on Ewoldt, click here.


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