On Saturday, November 9th, good fortune smiled on me as I was lucky enough to win tickets to the new adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac currently running at the Daryl Roth Theatre. The production had only opened two days prior, and given the star-power of the leading cast and the limited seats in the Roth, I was certain I wouldn’t get a chance to see it before closing on December 22nd. Thankfully, I was wrong.
Cyrano, starring the man-who-needs-no-introduction Peter Dinklage, is a fascinating take on Edmond Rostand’s classic romance … in musical form. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently, news of the play had spread, but not of Erica Schmidt’s particular approach. More on this later.
Whether or not you love musical theater may make or break your acceptance of Cyrano as a musical. However, what shouldn’t affect your appreciation at all is the brilliant decision to substitute the fantastical notion of de Bergerac’s exaggerated nose as the source of his “unattractive” branding with the very real contextual acceptance that Dinklage, as beloved as he may be, may never be considered a classic sex symbol/matinee idol/Adonis-among-men due to his stature.
Placing Dinklage in the lead, without removing references to de Bergerac’s nose in the script, is a daring stroke most playwrights wouldn’t think to consider. And yet, thanks to a talented and versatile cast, innovative set design, and stylized complementary choreography, Schmidt’s words and direction asks the audience to recognize the unspoken and bravely consider Rostand’s play not as a farcical romance, but as the romantic tragedy it was always intended to be.
From start to finish, we are immersed in a world that paints a brazen, yet clever swashbuckler with a tongue worthy of Shakespeare’s pen in the fight for his love’s affection through verse he writes on another man’s behalf. Dinklage is believable as Cyrano not only as a witty bard with playful comedic timing, but also as a man who fights as if he has nothing to lose, and so, he rarely does.
Surrounded by a cast of accomplished performers from the stage and screen, Dinklage may be the star, but he’s matched scene-for-scene by contemporaries who embody Schmidt’s interpretation effortlessly. Jasmine Cephas Jones’ Roxanne is sharp, funny and infuriating as ever — we’re all cheering for her to fall for Cyrano, remember? And Cephas Jones’ legacy as one of the original cast members of Hamilton reminds us that she’s more than accustomed to the demands of emotionally driven dialogue, soulful musical solos, and fresh twists on an old tale.
Rounding out our leading trio is Blake Jenner as Christian, a role not easy to fill especially when playing opposite Dinklage’s more charismatic Cyrano. But never let it be said that Jenner doesn’t bring his A-game as he goes from aloof comrade to obsequious martyr in two acts. Add in a voice to remind us why it’s a good thing Off-Broadway takes chances where Broadway often fears to tread, and voila! Cyrano.
Which brings us back to the musical elephant in the room. Some might say that adapting Cyrano de Bergerac into a musical while grounding it with the realism of a “no nose” protagonist feels uneven, or is perhaps asking for too much from a theater favorite. However, I found the new take worthy of experimentation. Between the splendid vocals offered by the ensemble cast — Grace McLean and Scott Stangland are notable standouts — and the seamless waltz between dramatic comedy and comedic drama, the musical Cyrano strikes an enchanting chord.
Are all the songs noteworthy? Sadly, no. Does the lack of a song list in the Playbill send the message that the composers and lyricists may not be as confident in their work as they should be? Unfortunately, yes. Although I found some tunes and lyrics a bit at odds with the spirit and tone of the play, there were other numbers, such as the solo performed by Ritchie Coster’s De Guiche, that reinforced the characters, the story, and the emotional energy that drives the play.
The number at the height of the battle scene — again, I don’t know the name because ::sigh:: no listing in the program — that marries a somber melody, heartbreaking lyrics, and ethereal choreography is alone enough to justify Schmidt’s vision. Jeff and Rick Kuperman also deserve a tip of the hat for the entire production’s choreography. The halting accents on the simplest of movements throughout the play wonderfully captures both the playfulness and poignancy of Schmidt’s direction and script.
If Cyrano’s only weakness is the occasional lackluster tune, I would say it earns all the applause of that cozy theater in Union Square eight times a week. Sure, audiences may be blown away by the depth and richness of Dinklage’s singing voice (spoiler: he’s a baritone, and yes, his voice reverberates something fierce), but it’s the story itself that still fills you just as much as it did when Rostand committed it to the page.
Schmidt takes a chance and blindly casts based on talent and skill, while reinforcing the tragedy how it is the fear of rejection that leads to our undoing more often than rejection itself. The result is an engaging experiment that ebbs and flows, and leaves us feeling … well, enchanted.