Disclaimer: this has only been the 3rd performance of this show by this company. The opening night is set for the 7th of November and anything discussed in this review is subject to change. However, I do intend to go back if possible to see if anything has changed from the version I saw until after opening night. Take my criticism lightly because it could have already changed overnight.
There has been an abundance of adaptations of this play about a poet with a big nose and an equally big heart. The comedy and tragedy that the situation created by the love-triangle is timeless and works in multiple settings. Most recently a version of the story hit Netflix in ‘Sierra Burgess is a Loser’ and a straight-play adaptation is set to hit the West End with James McAvoy as the lead. For this particular production Erica Schmidt, the writer/director, chose to stick very close to the original source material, keeping its setting and time-period.
Cyrano de Bergerac has a pretty simple set-up that proves to be a very successful jumping point for a rather tragic play. Cyrano de Bergerac (played here by Peter Dinklage) is a person born with an absurdly large nose. He has talent with the sword as well as with the quill and is very much in love with the beautiful Roxanne (Jasmine Cephas Jones). Roxanne however is in love with one of the cadets Cyrano is training. A handsome mouthpiece for his beautiful poetry, Cyrano decides to send his poetry to Roxanne through this cadet: Christian (Blake Jenner). Unfortunately Christian also loves Roxanne and Cyrano is almost doomed to be left out of the love-triangle if it weren’t for the fact that Christian needs him to provide poetry for Roxanne. Eventually both men are drafted for the war and tensions rise. Will Christian confess to deceiving Roxanne? Has Roxanne fallen for the words or for the beauty of Christian’s physique?
You could assume they would use his height as the abnormality in this play but Erica Schmidt has chosen to let the text speak for itself.
Peter Dinklage, having just won an Emmy for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister in the final season of Game of Thrones, portrays a very realistic Cyrano. They’ve left the prosthetic nose on the make-up table but they don’t change the text regarding it. You could assume they would use his height as the abnormality in this play but Erica Schmidt has chosen to let the text speak for itself. Nevertheless, Peter presumably pulls from his past in portraying the character. Scorned for this looks but praised for his wit, in some aspects his character is very much comparable to Tyrion, especially regarding his inflated sense of pride. It just goes to show the character fits him like a glove. The only tragic flaw Peter Dinklage has is that his singing voice isn’t all that strong, it stands in great contrast with his fellow castmates. Jasmine Cephas Jones, known for playing the seductive Mariah Reynolds in Hamilton (and Peggy), has one of the strongest voices in the cast and she gets quite a few ballads that suit her vocal range. Her character is quite complex and she nearly pulls it off, acting-wise she unfortunately can’t compare to Peter. Roxanne in this version is but a young girl and still very playful, which makes her descent into mourning at the end all the more harsh. Blake Jenner is excellent at portraying Christian whom they have left, fortunately, dumb and handsome. If they had tried to give Christian some more depth as well this production might have been in trouble, but his character creates a beautiful balance in the love triangle and delivers a very powerful message to Cyrano near the end. The other actors who mostly portray secondary characters are very good as well. Stand-outs are Ritchie Coster and Grace McLean as Duke de Guiche and Marie respectively.
You can see within the production that the emphasis was put on the text, which is nothing to complain about, unless the text isn’t the strongest element.
Erika Schmidt has both adapted the play for this musical and directed it, and I’m afraid this created a little bit of a conflict of interest. You can see within the production that the emphasis was put on the text, which is nothing to complain about, unless the text isn’t the strongest element. Especially when Erika’s adaptation of the original text competes with the new lyrics and music written by Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Matt Berringer and Carin Besser respectively. Some of the lyrics can’t compare to Edmond Rostand’s original text and poetry while others fit in neatly, and the music isn’t used to its fullest potential. For example, I think Erika should have chosen between to extremes: either let them sing Cyrano’s poetry, or let the language speak for itself without musical accompaniment. In the current form of the production they switch it around and choosing for one of the two options could have created some much-needed focus.
The production overall is stunning. Christine Jones and Amy Rubin have created one set element that presents itself as multiple locations flawlessly by making some quick changes to it. The choreography by Jeff and Rick Kuperman works seamlessly with Jeff Croiter’s lighting design to create stylistic battle scenes and war-imagery. Tom Broecker has pared down the period-costumes to create a more timeless look that ties will in with the rest of the production.
The only real thing keeping this production down is the direction. Fortunately Erika Schmidt has still about a month left until opening night to sand off all the rough edges to create the coherent production this show deserves to be. As it stands the show seems like a stylistic mix between Hamilton and Hadestown and considering those productions went on to win multiple awards, that’s not a bad mix. bad mix. Cyrano plays a limited engagement until December 22 at the Daryl Roth Theater.
Seen on: 10/13/2019, Seen at: the Daryl Roth Theater, NY. Matt Berninger: Lyrics, Carin Besser: Lyrics, Aaron Dessner: Music, Bryce Dessner: Music, Jeff and Rick Kuperman: Choreography, Erica Schmidt: Book and Director, Christine Jones and Amy Rubin: Scenic Design, Tom Broecker: Costume Design, Jeff Croiter: Lighting Design, Dan Moses Schreier: Sound Design, Tommy Kurzmanhair: Wig and Make-Up Design, Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner: Orchestrations, ted Arthur: Music Direction, Kristy Norter: Music Coordinator, Mary-Mitchell Campbell: Music Supervision and Arrangements, Beacon Theatrical Services: Production supervisor, Linda Marvel: Production Stage Manager, Telsey+Company / Patrick Goodwin, CSA/ Ally Kiley: Casting.