Theater review by Raven Snook
As a platform for the swoon-worthy Peter Dinklage, the New Group’s musical take on Edmond Rostand’s classic 1897 romance, Cyrano de Bergerac, has seductive moments. But it’s hard to fall in love with this confounding production.
Director-adapter Erica Schmidt mostly sticks to the story of the source material. Cyrano, a soldier equally skilled with swords and words but who believes he’s too ugly to love, attempts to quash his crush on Roxanne (a ravishing Jasmine Cephas Jones) and helps the witless pretty boy Christian (Blake Jenner) woo her in his stead. But Schmidt has excised all the poetry and much of the nasty humor; the jokes about Cyrano’s enormous nose are replaced with weak colloquial stabs at comedy (“Whaaa?”).
Members of the indie-rock band the National have written atmospheric incidental music, but most of their full-fledged numbers stop the show dead in its tracks, regardless of whether they’re sung with confidence (by troopers Jones and Jenner) or hesitation (Dinklage is still figuring out how to maximize his brooding baritone). Cyrano may be trying for a Spring Awakening–style juxtaposition, with contemporary tunes revitalizing a period romantic tragedy. But the lyrics are banal and repetitive, and, aside from a few group numbers—eye-catchingly choreographed by Jeff and Rick Kuperman—the songs do little to move the narrative forward. (As two previous Broadway flops suggest, Rostand’s play seems to resist musicalization.)
Yet Dinklage makes you care. His real-life wife, Schmidt, has elicited a captivating performance from this wonderfully expressive actor. When Cyrano thinks for a moment that Roxanne loves him, only to discover that it’s Christian she adores, you feel his elation give way to despair. It pierces your heart as the rest of the production rarely manages to do.
Daryl Roth Theatre (Off Broadway). Book by Erica Schmidt. Music by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner. Lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser. Directed by Schmidt. With Peter Dinklage, Jasmine Cephas Jones. Running time: 2hrs 5mins. One intermission.