The Dave Malloy Effect

  • Austin Russell

Playwright, Musician, Actor.

Dave Malloy’s effect on the musical theatre scene has already rooted itself in a place of absurdity and incredible thought. Through his ability to tell a story in both text and score, the audience can see a compliment and counter of the characters' emotions on stage. The subtext is brilliantly woven into the smallest of decisions, and each character seems to have reflective timbre, tone, and even instrumentation that supports what each person truly needs. Each one of his works finds a new way to enthrall the entire theatre, and call attention to the smallest of storylines, secrets, and tales.

Mr. Malloy’s most famous work, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, is a prime example of the brilliant mind of this man. Based on a short section of the great Russian novel War and Peace, we can see a dichotomy of characters grace the stage, and in an unstoppable force, tell a story of humanity. The Chekhovian tragedy of this play makes this story, and the character-driven piece it is, really spark in the spectacle of the circus.

Mr. Malloy, who starred in Great Comet when it performed Off-Broadway, was an incredible asset in creating the world that we have come to see artists like Josh Groban, Phillipa Soo, and Brittain Ashford thrive in, acting as writer and vehicle for this production. This ability to wear multiple hats is not just reflected in 1812. This idea is actually best represented and started in a different show of his.

Ghost Quartet saw the brain of Mr. Malloy take on a completely different demon. Both orchestrated and sung by a cast of 4; we are thrown into a Yahtzee game of plot points and song elements, burrowing deeper and deeper into each other, allowing for a sense of absurdism and existentialism that would make Samuel Beckett jealous. In this piece, we can both discuss art and life in a seemingly fire-ring concert of storytelling and skit-having; with booze being our best of friends along the way.

A certain observation of this show really could point one back to where theatre truly began, and the deconstruction and reconstruction of that from the sense of this man truly puts him very specifically in a place all of his own in musical history.

His story, much like one of many composers is a story of peaks and valleys of observations of life, and a concerted effort to try to put life down on the page. But, unlike most. It seems he has introduced us to two ideals at the same time: one being that life is complex, and that there are truths to search for in the smallest of details. But also that life is simple, and if you are not willing to live with connection with both yourself and the earth, you are not truly living. He presses to allow his work to do justice to all characters involved and is especially notable for his work on building female characters who are weighty and engaged beyond the idea of just a male counterpart.

He seems to thread a unique life in and out of his shows and songs, and it pleases me to say he is nowhere close to done yet.

With Octet, a chamber musical, continuing to thrive and run, and his ever-present work on Moby Dick (which will be directed by Hadestown’s Rachel Chavkin) ever on the rise, I think we might be looking at the next great composer of our time.