Race, Money and Broadway: How ‘Great Comet’ Burned Out

About two dozen people involved with “Great Comet” — creators, performers, producers and investors, many of whom would speak only anonymously to protect their ability to continue working in an industry with long memories and few jobs — described a bewildering sequence of events.

Some blamed the lead producer, Howard Kagan, a hard-charging hedge fund veteran, for failing to rein in costs or to plan effectively. Others faulted Okieriete Onaodowan, a “Hamilton” alumnus who succeeded Mr. Groban, for not helping to tamp down the outcry that erupted when the producers tried to replace him with the “Homeland” star Mandy Patinkin.

But the finger-pointing may obscure a more fundamental issue. The musical itself, an electro-pop opera adapted from a section of “War and Peace” and set in 19th-century Russia, was a long shot to thrive on Broadway, where 63 percent of tickets are purchased by tourists, who tend to favor established hits, adaptations of movies and shows that feature celebrities.

Photo

Josh Groban, left, and Okieriete Onaodowan backstage at the Imperial Theater.

Credit
Nicole Craine for The New York Times

The cast, crew and investors are frustrated, and rueful. “This show was something special,” said Joey Cassata, a drummer making his Broadway debut in the musical, “and to have it crash down in a ball of flames — it’s a crime.”

Getting There

It began on the high seas.

Dave Malloy, an aspiring composer making ends meet as a cruise ship pianist, made the fortuitous decision to while away some hours by reading “War and Peace.” A musical was born.

The initial production, in 2012, was at an 87-seat Off Broadway theater, Ars Nova, refashioned to resemble a Russian supper club. The actors, many of them also playing instruments, performed on bar tops while the audience, seated at cafe…

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