There’s a new dynamic duo storming the stairs of Moscow! Stepping into the shoes of Pierre and Sonya in the the much celebrated production of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 are Hamilton favorite Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan and multi-platinum recording artist Ingrid Michaelson.
Onaodowan and Michaelson sat down with Broadway Style Guide to discuss how they’re approaching the roles, onstage surprises, and what brought them to the Broadway stage.
What is the most unexpected thing you encountered while working on The Great Comet?
Ingrid Michaelson: For me it was the physicality, how it physically hurts your body. There’s a lot of stairs. During rehearsals, we were rehearsing in rooms where there are no stairs. They’re like, “This is where you’re going up these stairs. This is where you’re going down these stairs.” So for as many stairs as you see on stage and in the mezzanine, there’s also stairs backstage. You’re just constantly walking up and down stairs. It really takes a toll on your body.
Okieriete Onaodowan: One is no matter how old you are, whenever an actor interacts with you [as an audience member], you just turn into a six-year-old kid. So many times when Denée or someone looks at someone, you’re just like *sighs*—old man, old woman. It doesn’t matter where they come from.
Oak, a lot of people know you from Hamilton, what’s it like going from a supporting character to heading your own show?
Onaodowan: Honestly, it’s the same shit, you know. I just say different things.
Michaelson: Except you get all the applause when you come out onstage!
Onaodowan: Yeah! It’s more applause, and I say more words. But the approach of it, grounding [the characters] and making them real, it’s just more material to make a real person. For me personally, that’s the main difference—just having more time and more material to craft, work around, and create a really fully flushed out dude. It’s really great, and the applause doesn’t hurt at all.
Michaelson: He’s just so good! He brings a real vulnerability to the character. And this might be because I watch the show every night from certain points, but I really understand a lot of it and I really feel like this week you really came into, I don’t know, something. I was crying yesterday. I had a little hanky in my cleavage and I was [sniffling] in the corner.
Onaodowan: The same for you!
Onaodowan: But truly, with your work, and I said this in another interview, it’s inspiring to see how seriously you took coming to stage.
So what made you join a Broadway production?
Michaelson: Hearing “Sonya Alone.” I saw the show. I heard that song. And I was like, “That’s a pretty song. I want to sing that.” I also went to school for musical theatre. I just didn’t have the traditional Broadway voice, and a lot of people in the show don’t have a traditional voice.
Onaodowan: Yeah that’s true.
Michaelson: And I thought that maybe this could be something I could actually be part of. So I talked to the producers, and they said, “Let’s figure out a time that works,” and we found five weeks. And now I’m halfway through! It’s crazy.
It’s interesting that you just spoke about “Sonya Alone” because it’s one of the more memorable songs in the show. How are you putting your own spin on it?
Michaelson: I really love the stage direction because I follow Denée, or whoever is playing Natasha, around the whole stage. I basically sing to her, and it takes the pressure off of you. You don’t have to do anything. And the song is just a sweet song of love, but it’s not romantic love. It’s unflinching, unrelenting love for, basically, your sister. She’s not my sister, but that’s how I feel.
I feel very protective of her so much that in a show last week, when she dropped her dress at one point and some male in the audience was like “whoo!” I got really weirdly protective. And when I walked out on stage, I had a look on my face. And one of the stage managers was like, “What happened!?” I’m like a guard dog. I would do anything to protect you even if it means the end of our friendship, which is what sort of happens in the end. And that’s real love. I don’t care if you hate me; I’m doing what I know is best for you.
Oak, how are you putting your own spin on Pierre, especially stepping in after the show’s writer Dave Malloy and Josh Groban?
Onaodowan: How I am as an actor, as an artist, is wildly different from Dave. It’s wildly different from Josh. So inherently, my version of Pierre is just wildly different, and it’s a bit more vulnerable. I really wanted to focus on him being as vulnerable as possible and being caught up in the whirlwind of his world around him. He’s seeing it and thinking there’s something wrong but doesn’t necessarily know how to approach it.
I think everyone can relate to that—to really wanting and trying to be somewhere but being stuck. Everyone has been stuck, and I think that it’s always compelling to watch the person who is fighting to get unstuck because their success, in a way, is kind of your success. You’re connected to that. The underdog story of someone striving or fighting.
Dave Malloy was inspired by pop and contemporary music. Ingrid and Oak, who are some singers and musicians that have inspired you?
Michaelson: This is what I listen to before I go onstage because I just love her. I just listen to Judy Garland all the time. Her story is so tragic to me, but her voice is just one of those voices. Her voice, to me, is not perfect and has weird moments in it. Those are my favorite artists—sonically, musically, even in the way you write. Everything. Where things aren’t perfect. And I think she really embodies that in her vocal approach. It’s just so twisty and turn-y. She’s like my vocal icon.
Onaodowan: It shifts and changes. Right now, it’s Ben Rector, who I love. He’s a storyteller and the message behind his music is kind of “take your time and appreciate the moments around you.”
I don’t know if I have any specific music inspirations. My mom and my family are my biggest inspiration across all mediums—just anyone who is tenacious and really attacks anything. It could be something as simple as a little kid I see on the train who’s adamant about something and his mom’s like “No. No, you can’t do it.” And he’s like, “No! I WILL do this.” That’s my inspiration for the day. That kid is like “This is something that I want, and I’m going to fight tooth and nail to get it.” I’ll carry that for the rest of the day with me.
Onaodowan and Michaelson will be performing as Pierre and Sonya until August 13.
Styled by Kayla Foster
Make-Up by Megan Lanoux for Exclusive Artists using Oribe Haircare and Sisley Paris
Clothing by Narciss, Andreeva, Everlane, Scarci, Brave Gentleman
Jewelry by Scosha
Shoes by Nina Shoes