Cyrano de Bergerac
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
October 31, 2007
The title character in Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand's classic 1897 swashbuckling romantic melodrama, is a man who by his admission has "decided to excel in everything": poetry, philosophy, swordfighting, you name it. Judging from the numerous amounts of times he gets to display his proficiency in these and other areas, one could easily surmise that Cyrano has indeed mastered his interests.
In other words: this is a showboat role that requires a world class showboater to pull it off.
Kevin Kline, who plays the lead role in the rapturous new Broadway revival of Cyrano, is such a personage, and his sly performance reaffirms his standing as one of America's foremost classical actors. His dry wit is a perfect complement to Cyrano's defiant haughtiness and poetic heart, and his seemingly effortless comfort level with verse is something to behold. Kline leads a dynamite cast with expert ease in director David Leveaux's disarmingly rousing production.
The story of Cyrano is well-known: the title character is smitten with his much-younger cousin, the beautiful and highly-coveted Roxanne. But, he knows full well that someone as ugly as he is—he has an inexplicably oversized nose: it "precedes me in every direction, fifteen minutes," he quips—never gets the girl. It turns out that Roxanne has eyes for a young soldier acquaintance of Cyrano's named Christian. Christian is as beautiful as Roxanne, but has no aptitude for romance and turns into a blithering idiot whenever he talks to women. Cyrano, on the other hand, is a master of both the written and spoken word. So, he agrees to help Christian woo Roxanne out of his own sheer blind love for the girl. Naturally, complications ensue.
No one will ever mistake Cyrano for great dramatic literature: Rostand specifically wrote it as a star vehicle for the great 19th century French actor Coquelin. But, Cyrano is a much-coveted role for good reason: it's a part that sounds from the lowest note to the top of one's compass, giving whoever plays it a chance to display wide range both technically and emotionally. And Rostand has built a crowd-pleasing story around his protagonist that knows how to push all of the audience's buttons: there is romance, death, mistaken identity, and a little bit of everything else. (Eat your heart out, Shakespeare!)
Leveaux buys right into the play's sweeping and energetic spirit and crafts a Cyrano that is grand and lavish entertainment. The production has a swiftness and bounce that makes its nearly three-hour running time fly right by. Leveaux also injects a high-stakes emotional urgency that builds steadily throughout the production, especially in Act II, which features Cyrano and his Gascony cadets under siege at Arras, and Cyrano's wistful final meeting with Roxanne. The second half is so well done that it already ranks as one of my personal highlights of this season.
Tom Pye's set design makes smart use of the theatre's back wall and architecture, using them as the foundation for a revolving door of set pieces that include a huge candlelit chandelier, a long dining table, a couple of large trees, and even a big bright moon. Throw in Gregory Gale's sumptuous costumes and Don Holder's always exemplary lighting design and you've got a visual feast of a show.
Ultimately, though, every Cyrano lives and dies by its leading man, and this one thrives under Kline's leadership. He has a confident ease that fits the role perfectly, and captivates the audience whenever he launches into one of the play's longer poetic segments (like his under-the-balcony wooing of Roxanne at the end of Act I). He has the complete set of acting tools necessary for this job, and has never before used them so well (at least, not when I've seen him).
All of the acting is uniformly strong throughout. As Roxanne, Jennifer Garner lights up the stage with both her enthusiasm and her skill, making as comfortable a Broadway debut as any I've ever seen. Daniel Sunjata gamely plays Christian as straight man to Kline's Cyrano with a humility that is both dashing and goofball. The terrific Chris Sarandon turns the usually thankless role of Cyrano's nemesis, the Comte de Guiche, into something memorable and dignified, and makes a worthy opponent for Kline. An all-star lineup of New York theatre stalwarts—including Max Baker, Euan Morton, Concetta Tomei, Tom Bloom, MacIntyre Dixon, and Peter Jay Fernandez—bring up the rear with considerable panache in a variety of smaller roles.
I could go on and on about this new Cyrano, but instead I'll just leave the rest for you to see on your own. And I encourage everyone who can to go see this wonderful revival, especially if you've never seen the play before. I can't think of a better introduction to Rostand's enduring classic than this one.