There’s an off-stage war going on at ‘The Great Comet’
“Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” a musical inspired by Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” takes place during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. But the feud among the producers of the show, which began previews Tuesday night, makes the Battle of Borodino look like a game of paintball.
Threats of lawsuits are flying, people have been banned from the theater, and the creative team is fomenting revolt.
And it’s all over . . . billing. Don’t laugh. Billing on Broadway is as important as holding territory on the Russian front.
“The Great Comet,” which stars Josh Groban, started in 2012 at Ars Nova, a nonprofit theater that produces projects from up-and-coming talent.
Howard Kagan, a former hedge fund manager-turned-producer, picked it up, produced it off-Broadway and then developed it for Broadway. A contract stipulated that all productions be billed as “The Ars Nova production of . . .”
But when Ars Nova got a proof of the Playbill title page this week, “production of” was missing. Ars Nova was lumped in along with the 38 other above-the-title producers. (It takes an army the size of Napoleon’s to produce a Broadway show these days.)
Talk of a lawsuit swirled. Kagan, production sources say, threatened to “sabotage” the theater’s Dec. 5 benefit gala by scheduling the cast album recording that day. An email to Ars Nova from Kagan’s press agent Matt Ross says, “A session like this is going to be an all-day/all-night endeavor, so it’s looking increasingly likely that [the cast] are not going to be able to participate . . . in the gala.”
When Ars Nova staffers complained, sources say, they were told that if they showed up at the first preview, they’d be “forcibly removed from the theater.” Fourteen staffers bought tickets for that performance, but as of Tuesday afternoon, they decided to have dinner at Carmine’s instead.
Sources say cast members and the crew are “deeply upset” by the feud. “They want to be at the benefit. There wouldn’t be a show without Ars Nova,” a production source says. Some are hoping Groban will put his foot down and demand that the recording session be rescheduled.
Through a spokesman, Kagan declined to comment. But sources in his camp blame Ars Nova for escalating a dispute about a simple phrase into all-out war, and point out that Ars Nova does get credit for the show, albeit in tiny print.
Jason Eagan, Ars Nova’s artistic director, released the following statement: “Ars Nova is deeply disappointed that our own board member Howard Kagan is attempting to minimize the contribution that Ars Nova has made to ‘Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812’ by denying us the proper billing credit we have earned and of which we are contractually entitled.”