A feud over the manner in which Off-Broadway‘s Ars Nova Theatre is being credited in the Broadway Playbill for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 has caused a meteoric battle in the press.
Heralded as an incubator of edgy new work, Ars Nova staged the world premiere of the immersive musical in 2012. Critics took note. The Great Comet was later remounted in a larger, more lavish custom “tent” in 2013. It will officially open at Broadway's Imperial Theatre November 14.
Howard and Janet Kagan, the show’s commercial producers, were reportedly contractually required to bill the show as “The Ars Nova production of . . .” but billing materials omitted the words “production of” and simply listed Ars Nova last among 38 other above-the-title producers in the Playbill.
The current Playbill also includes the following at the bottom of the billboard page: “Originally commissioned, developed, and world premiere produced by Ars Nova.”
When talk of a lawsuit began to circulate, Kagan, also a member of the Board of Directors at Off-Broadway‘s Ars Nova Theatre, barred Ars Nova personnel (namely artistic director Jason Eagan) from previews, which began October 18.
The Times reports that Ars Nova sent Kagan a letter accusing him of threatening to initiate “a smear campaign in the press in order to irreparably harm Ars Nova’s reputation.”
Eagan, Ars Nova’s artistic director, issued 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.”
The Great Comet producers declined to comment via the show’s press representatives.
Ars Nova had been scheduled to honor the Kagans at its upcoming gala.
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 began its journey to Broadway in a 2012 production at Ars Nova, a not-for-profit Off-Broadway company that bills itself as ”NYC’s Premier Hub for New Talent.” Other shows that began at Ars Nova include Futurity and Small Mouth Sounds, but Great Comet is its first production to reach Broadway.
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, which is adapted from a passage in Leo Tolstoy's novel War & Peace, was performed in a specially designed tent called Kazino in lower Manhattan and subsequently on West 45th Street near Times Square. It’s now playing at the Imperial Theatre next door to the vacant lot where Kazino once stood. Josh Groban stars in the Broadway mounting.
Kagan and his wife Janet have co-produced ten Broadway shows since 2011, including Hands on a Hardbody, Pippin, On the Town, and Tuck Everlasting.