Review: ‘Calvin Berger’

'Calvin Berger'

A cheerful little winner.

Ever since Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” swashbuckled across the stage in 1897, his bittersweet verse saga of a prodigiously nosed 17th century cavalier has been seducing songsmiths.

Composers ranging from America’s Victor Herbert in 1899 to Holland’s Ad Van Dijk (whose Broadway version eked out 175 showings in 1993) have attempted — and failed — to create a successful Cyrano musical. Now, using only the scarcest whiff of Rostand’s swooning romance, composer-lyricist-book writer Barry Wyner has concocted a cheerful little winner in “Calvin Berger.”

Broadway appears an unlikely destination for this high school musical, but plenty of regional houses will want to book dates with Wyner’s appealing tuner, neatly crafted for a four-member cast and small band.

Calvin (Noah Weisberg) is a bright high school senior bothered by his big schnozz and even bigger secret crush on popular Rosanna (Krystal Joy Brown). She sees him as a chum but asks Calvin to help her scope out hunky newcomer Matt (David Hull), who’s a tad slow on the uptake.

Calvin figures he can assist his tongue-tied new bud and still pay court to Rosanna by stage-managing their romance, dreaming up sweet somethings for Matt to memorize. But the big lug is stumped until a funny scene when Calvin coaches him to learn his lines to a rap beat.

With Rosanna and Matt fast becoming a romantic item, Calvin realizes his major miscalculation. Meanwhile, grunge girl-next-door Bret (Dana Steingold) wants to be more than just Calvin’s movie-watching sidekick.

Filled with mistaken self-confidence, Matt decides to wing it with Rosanna but gets stuck with nothing smart to say. Wyner then riffs amusingly on Rostand’s celebrated balcony scene, as Calvin instructs Matt to plug in his cell phone earpiece and repeat his words to Rosanna.

The ruse more or less succeeds, but complications ensue, secret intentions are revealed, and tempers flare until a bachelor auction and a makeover for Calvin help steer the bumpy romances back on track. “See me as someone different, see me as someone new,” the couples sing in the happy conclusion. “See me as someone who may not be perfect. I’m far from perfect, but could be perfect for you.”

The halls of an American high school are far from the Hotel Burgundy in 1640, but “Calvin Berger” has its own charms, and the Everyteen characters allow auds of any age to identify. All four kids at various points express dissatisfaction with their bodies, looks and situations in life that’s likely to ring true with anybody who recalls the pangs of adolescence.

Unlike Rostand’s proud hero, Calvin is ashamed of his honker, but he’s otherwise a smart guy — a little geeky but hardly a nerd. Rosanna is a good-hearted, unaffected beauty, and Matt may be a dim-witted jock, but he’s a pleasant fellow aware of his limitations. While she gets the show’s strongest number, snarky Bret otherwise has the least to do, but her frustrated wallflower status will register with many in the audience.

Wyner neatly tells the story with brief scenes and character-based laughs. Some racier comical bits can be trimmed as local authorities deem fit, but nothing in the text will shock.

Integrated smoothly into the story, Wyner’s upbeat, easy-on-the ear contempo-pop score involves concise songs that clearly express emotions and define moments. Among standout numbers: Calvin’s whimsical “Mr. Potato Head” plaint over his appearance; Bret’s yearning “Saturday Alone” reverie; and the guys’ propulsive confirmation of their combined powers, “We’re the Man!” Douglas Besterman supplies bright orchestrations for the five-member band.

Director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall (Broadway’s “Wonderful Town” and “The Pajama Game” revivals) breezily stages the show with little dance but plenty of youthful movement and energy.

A first-class design team provides pleasing visuals. Derek McLane’s two-level setting situates the kids’ colorfully individualized bedrooms on top deck (with the band located behind), employing wagons below to bring out locations like a coffee shop or classroom. Martin Pakledinaz’s everyday teen attire always looks cute and character-appropriate, and Howell Binkley’s sunny lighting crisply defines the space.

The attractive quartet of adult actors do a persuasive job depicting teens. Lanky, carrot-topped Weisberg is a personable Calvin who wears his awkwardness lightly. Spiky Steingold imbues Bret’s dialogue with a somewhat comical tinny quality, but her strong, supple voice mellows beautifully in song. As Rosanna and Matt, Brown and Hull effectively belie their hottie exteriors by pointing up their characters’ inner uncertainties.

“Calvin Berger” world preemed at Gloucester Stage Company in 2006 and was further developed for a Barrington Stage Company presentation in 2007. This trim, attractive staging appears to take the property to its final incarnation. The show offers tuneful entertainment with an appealing message about self-worth

Calvin Berger

George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick, N.J.; 365 seats; $79.50 top


A George Street Playhouse presentation, by special arrangement with Scott M. Delman, of a musical in two acts with music, lyrics and book by Barry Wyner. Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. Musical direction, Aron Accurso.


Sets, Derek McLane; costumes, Martin Pakledinaz; lighting, Howell Binkley; sound, Brian Ronan; orchestrations, Douglas Besterman; production stage manager, Thomas Clewell. Opened, Feb. 19, 2010. Reviewed Feb. 20. Running time: 2 HOURS.


Calvin Berger Noah Weisberg Bret Dana Steingold Rosanna Krystal Joy Brown Matt David Hull
Musical numbers: "Security Meltdown," "I Can See Him Now," "Don'tcha Think?," "It Just Wasn't Meant to Happen," "We're the Man!," "Never Know," "Saturday Alone," "More Than Meets the Eye," "Act One Finale," "Mr. Potato Head," "Graduation Day," "Saturday Alone" (reprise), "The Fight," "How Can I Compete With That?," "Perfect For You," "We're the Man!" (reprise), "Calm, Cool and Collected," "Perfect For You" (reprise).

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