For Broadway’s Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, set designer Mimi Lien wanted to recreate the magic of the Russian vodka den that got New York buzzing when the show first premiered Off-Broadway at Ars Nova, but she also wanted to expand her vision past the velvet-draped den in the theatre’s playing space.
“The first words that are sung is, ‘There’s a war going on out there’ and inside it’s caviar, chandeliers, and so we wanted the audience to actually walk through this other space before they go to the inside space,” explains Lien. “Basically the idea was to disorient people.”
In this video, general manager of The Great Comet Andy Jones goes “in the bunker” of the Imperial Theatre (former home of Les Misérables) with Lien to talk about her design for the entire theatre—lobby space and all.
Good thing Lien has a degree in architecture. “We actually busted through the coat room to create a new path,” she says as she guides us through the new twists and turns from lobby corridors to a new door leading backstage.
In a hilarious sequence of exchanges along the tour, Jones and Lien ask audience members (who have no idea Lien is the visionary behind it all) for their opinion on the industrial design. Luckily, the MacArthur Genius fellow takes it in stride, fully confident in her vision. “[After the bunker] they get to these enormous double doors and inside it’s red and opulent and lush and that's the moment of contrast that I designed all of this for.”