When a rock star does theatre, it usually means a side project or a new direction for a well-established recording artist: Sting or Cyndi Lauper trying their hand at Broadway songwriting, Pete Townshend or Billie Joe Armstrong staging concept albums, Sebastian Bach going into Jekyll & Hyde.
But what if the theatre bred and fed its own rock stars? What if we had a rabble of raucous, irrepressible musical auteurs who could hold their own in an indie band or a hip-hop studio or even an arena rock concert, but who have instead made theatre their main medium? Increasingly we do: folks like Lin-Manuel Miranda, or Stew, or the Lisps’ César Alvarez, or the Bengsons, or Sky-Pony.
Dave Malloy belongs in this company, as well as in a class of his own. Bearish, blond, and bearded, the 41-year-old Malloy has a whiff of the 19th century about him, as if he sprang to life from a daguerreotype or a pencil sketch, which may be one reason he’s always looked eerily at home decked in the spectacles and rumpled suit of Pierre, the accordion-toting narrator of his form-breaking, Tolstoy-riffing musical Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (now on Broadway with pop bari-tenor Josh Groban as Pierre, though Malloy will pop back for a few weeks in May and June into the role he created in the show’s earlier Off-Broadway incarnations). His music for the theatre, though, doesn’t sound like your grandfather’s musical theatre—or rather, it sounds a bit like what might result if your grandfather’s record collection got shuffled into a Spotify playlist alongside Tom Waits, Arvo Pärt, Arcade Fire, Dirty Projectors, Thelonious Monk, Shostakovich, and any number of assorted jazz, country, singer/songwriter folk, world music, and electropop tracks.