Where does Napoleonic costume meet punk inspired clothing? Only at the musical “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.” This strange, brazen merging of the two styles of dress goes perfectly with David Malloy’s modern literary adaptation of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”
Malloy, a thirty-seven year-old musician is the composer and star of this ambitious, immersive electro-pop musical that is based on a seventy-page sliver of the lengthy novel. His interpretation of Volume II, Part Five of the seemingly intermidible novel that takes place in an old Russian-like nightclub is very much eclectic. The soundtrack is virtually all over the place with screeching opera notes and an echo base louder than your average teenager’s sound system. Though “the calculated lack of musical consistency is enough to drive a purist crazy” according to Stasio’s review in “Variety,” the blending of a traditional aria of Russian opera with club electronic music is enticing. The fact that the lyrics march to their own beat, disregarding historical accuracy and rhyme scheme, is almost as beguiling as the dashing rogue Anatole.
These unpredictable, flavorful songs lay the groundwork for Paloma Young’s highly acclaimed costumes in the musical (she is a 2013 nominee for Outstanding Costume Design). Young brilliantly transports the audience back to the Napoleonic Era with her high-empire waist dresses, corsets, silk gloves, breeches, and single-breasted tailcoats. But, she doesn’t leave the club goers stuck in 1812. Many of her costumes are far from the traditional, lady-like attire of a simple muslin chemise that innocent Natasha Rostova wears at the beginning of the musical. The abundance of silk, pearls, bare skin, feather-embellished diamond headdresses, and lace is purely intoxicating. At just the sight of double-stranded pearls and plunging necklines, Rostova is appalled and considers the ladies’ fashion “grotesque, false, and unnatural.” Her virgin eyes are obviously unprepared for the next rave-like scene with flashing-seizure-inducing lights in which the actresses wear modern and fashionable punk-inspired explicit graphic t-shirts, haute pants with spikes, racy crop tops, and fishnet leggings.
Young does a great job at contrasting Rostova’s restricted, oppressed dress of a corseted, floor length dress and high white gloves with Helene’s liberated, decadent attire of green and black lace embellished with multiple strands of pearls and fishnet gloves. As the musical progresses, Rostova’s sexual liberation is made evident by her growing fetish for the French diaphanous, risqué clothing that Helene wears.
Young’s costumes play an instrumental role in shaping the characters’ development and driving the plot forward. This award-winning costume designer does not only bring to life Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” but she explores the sexual liberation of women through dress and gives the audience an in-depth glance into fashion history.