“Great theater in the great outdoors” couldn’t be a more accurate slogan for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
This tagline is especially true when referencing their performance of “Natasha Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812”, a musical based on 70 pages of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The innovative soundtrack coupled with the phenomenal acting from the cast makes this musical a delightful experience from start to finish.
The costuming, done by Tesia Dugan Benson, was absolutely stunning. Punk ensemble costumes contrasted with bejeweled gowns kept the viewers’ eyes trained on the actors the entire time, and added to the perception of each character.
Jillian Bumpas, known for iconic roles including Glinda and Nessarose in Wicked’s national tour, Cinderella in “Into the Woods”, Texas in “Cabaret” and countless others, played Helene the First in “Great Comet”.
Bumpas shared what made her experience playing Helene the first in “Great Comet” so special, and revealed it to be her favorite of the shows she’s done.
“This show is definitely now at the top,” Bumpas said. “I believe in it and I love it so much as a work. I’m not always in love with the entire show I’m in, this show feels cool and it’s edgy. And the fact that there are so many different genres, I feel cool doing it.”
Bumpas captured the stylistic elements of the music to a T. Each song challenged the typical preconceived idea of what a musical could be. The blend of pop, electronica and operetta (to name a few) completely elevated the already incredible writing of the show.
An article discussing the musical’s historical context noted that the music that takes place during the Operetta within the show is said to be purposefully odd to represent Tolstoy’s negative opinion of the Opera. This attention to detail makes the show an absolute rewatch.
The characters were all so animated and precise with their movements, a testament to the passion the actors felt in getting to portray them.
“I’ve never been in my villain era until now and I’m never wanting to go back to the sweetheart,” Bumpas said. “I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve gotten older so I’m able to go into these facets of myself that are required for a role like this. It just felt kind of seamless. Not that I’m like her in every way but there’s a part of me that is, that feels empowered wearing promiscuous clothing —or what in 1812 they considered promiscuous which was just like — shoulders.”
As far as the plot goes, there’s a reason why you may have heard of “War and Peace” once or twice. The links between characters and the overall connectedness of the plot make this show seem like a living entity.
The show is full of subplots that all interconnect to miraculously tie the plot line into a neat and tidy bow, despite the play being based on the middle of the novel.
“The classics are the classics because they resonate with every age of people because they are just so well written that everyone can see themselves,” Bumpas said. “‘Great Comet’ does such a good job of doing that and bringing Tolstoy to our younger generations. I’ve seen so many people your age be so hooked on it and I get why.”
This musical’s content isn’t for the faint of heart, as pointed out in a fourth wall break in the show’s opening number.
“We get that it’s a hard sell,” Bumpas said. “We’re aware, we’re in on the joke. But now we’re going to tell it in a way that’s accessible to everybody. I’m just so thrilled that it’s getting young people to come out, I think this is a different kind of excitement than I’ve seen.”
Go see Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s next incredible show “Dracula” which is running from Sept. 1 until Oct. 1.