Off Broadway Review: ‘Cyrano’ Starring Peter Dinklage

Pride prevails in this thin, stripped-down musical version of the well-known tale.

Peter Dinklage, Blake Jenner, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ritchie Coster, Josh A. Dawson, Grace McLean, Hillary Fisher; Christopher Gurr, Nehal Joshi, Erika Olson, Scott Stangland.

2 hours 5 minutes

It’s pride and not panache that drives this overly spare and gloomy musical adaptation of that classic tale of unrequited love and honor, “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Despite a mesmerizing performance by Peter Dinklage, hot off “Game of Thrones,” and a haunting score by members of the band The National, this “Cyrano” is so reductive — the musical runs just two hours — that instead of an epic narrative poem of yearning, brio and noble sacrifice, there’s just a haiku of rue.

That may be the point that adapter/director Erica Schmidt intends to make by stripping Edmond Rostand’s long, populous 1893 play down to its core story points and tone. But in reducing its flourishes and joy — not to mention the details that enrich characters, color the world they live in and vary the storytelling — it also diminishes the audience’s emotional connection, even in its usually surefire, heart-tugging end.

Making Cyrano sing has been a challenge in the past, too.  A large-scale 1973 musical, choreographed and directed by Michael Kidd with a book by Anthony Burgess, earned Christopher Plummer a Tony but was short-lived. Another sumptuous version by a Dutch creative team came and went on Broadway in 1993.

In this adaptation, the outline of the narrative remains more or less the same as the 1893 play but cut dramatically. Schmidt makes many smart edits and rewrites to move the story along and reduce its period preciousness; though ostensibly set in 17th century France, the attitude is deliberately contemporary.

Though poet-soldier Cyrano (Dinklage) has extraordinary skills with the sword (performed offstage) and with words, his physical insecurities — it’s not about the nose  — and his high sense of honor prevent him from declaring his love for Roxanne, played with unsettling and unsubtle fierceness by Jasmine Cephas Jones.

Roxanne, oblivious to her friend’s profound affection, is urged by her chaperone Marie (Grace McLean) to be more accommodating to the powerful and wealthy De Guiche (Ritchie Coster) — who controls the city and the regiment, which is in the midst of a war. But Roxanne only has eyes for Christian (Blake Jenner), a handsome but word-challenged cadet. Cyrano’s love for Roxanne is so strong, he supplies Christian with the words to woo, if only to express his passions vicariously.

Though the script reduces the more improbable or fussy aspects of the Rostand play, new problems arise in the re-purposing. The first connection between Roxanne and Christian is badly and barely staged; the arrival of supporting characters supplying exposition is often clunky, if not unintentionally comic; Cyrano’s wizardry with language — his purported specialty — is only glimpsed. The final scene presents a disconcerting side of Roxanne that chills the heart and makes it only about pride, leaving its hero empty and the audience unfulfilled and stranded.

The production boasts an effective traditional-yet-modern feel, with a handsome minimalist set design by Christine Jones and Amy Rubin; dreamlike and ritualistic movement by Jeff and Rick Kuperman (who also supplied one of the more memorable elements of “Alice by Heart”); and meditative music of longing and desire by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner, with lyrics by Matt Berninger and Caron Besser.

Sometimes the tunes are slips of musical moments, sometimes they’re fully realized numbers. But they are all of a piece and set the dominant tone of melancholy — apt, but insufficient for the needs of the story-telling.

The cast numbers 11 but in essence the show’s focus is on four characters, all under some form of beautiful illusion. Coster’s Duke is a psychologically conflicted and the actor makes the most of his internal angst in the  song, “What I Deserve.” Jenner (TV’s “Glee”) makes a boyishly appealing Cristian, though perhaps not cadet-worthy. He has a graceful baritone and the show’s loveliest song, “Someone to Say.”

Dinklage’s songs are well-crafted to accommodate his low register and narrow range. His singing voice is a soulful musical rumble that measures seismic readings of his sadness and longing. But whether he’s singing or sighing, being fearless in battle or fearful of love, his Cyrano remains captivating. Not so much the show, which only sees the pain of illusion.

Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: 'Cyrano' Starring Peter Dinklage

Daryl Roth Theater; 238 seats: $105 top regular. Opened Nov. 7, 2019; reviewed Nov. 3. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Production: A New Group presentation of a musical in two acts, adapted by Erica Schmidt from “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand. Music by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner and lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser.

Creative: Directed by Erica Schmidt; choreography, Jeff and Rick Kuperman; sets, Christine Jones and Amy Rubin; costumes, Tom Broecker; lighting, Jeff Croiter; sound, Dan Moses Schreier; music director, Ted Arthur; orchestrations, Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner; musical supervisor and arranger, Mary-Mitchell Campbell; music coordinator, Kristy Norter; production stage manager, Linda Marvel.

Cast: Peter Dinklage, Blake Jenner, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ritchie Coster, Josh A. Dawson, Grace McLean, Hillary Fisher; Christopher Gurr, Nehal Joshi, Erika Olson, Scott Stangland.

More Legit

  • Tessa Thompson'Westworld' Season 3 TV show

    Tessa Thompson, Michael Urie and Celia Keenan-Bolger to Appear in Play-PerView Fundraiser (EXCLUSIVE)

    Tessa Thompson will appear in a live reading of Ryan Spahn’s comedy ​”Nora Highland” in order to raise money for arts organizations impacted by the coronavirus. “Nora Highland” is being featured on Play-PerView, a new live-streaming initiative that was co-founded by producer ​Jeremy Wein​ (NYC PodFest)​ and actor and producer ​Mirirai Sithole (“Black Mirror: Smithereens”). [...]

  • Mark Rylance Oscars 2016

    'Bridge of Spies' Actor Mark Rylance Leads Union Drive for Coronavirus Relief Donations

    U.K. entertainment industry union Equity has pledged £1 million ($1.2 million) to support its members who have been affected by the pandemic-induced industry shutdown. Equity is asking for more donations, stating that the vast majority of its 47,000 members earn modest sums and do not have savings as a fall-back option. The appeal for further [...]

  • Directors Coronavirus

    Economic Package For Freelancers Elicits Mixed Response From U.K. Industry

    The long-awaited economic measures for the self-employed revealed by U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak on Thursday have elicited mixed response from the film and TV industry’s predominantly freelance workforce. Self-employed individuals can claim 80% of their average income over the last three years up to £2,500 ($3,000) a month, which is taxable. To [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    Critic’s Notebook: The Night Before Broadway Went Dark

    Let me preface this by saying the story I’m about to tell is not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Two weeks ago, I rushed to New York City to catch “The Inheritance” before it closed on Broadway. I’d been tracking the play by Matthew Lopez — a multigenerational, six-and-a-half-hour monument that resurrects E.M. Forster [...]

  • Mark Blum dead

    Mark Blum, 'Desperately Seeking Susan' Star, Dies From Coronavirus Complications

    Actor Mark Blum, who appeared in “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Crocodile Dundee” and the TV series “You,” has died due to complications from coronavirus. He was 69. The Playwrights Horizons theater group and SAG-AFTRA executive vice president Rebecca Damon confirmed the news on Thursday. It is with such deep sorrow that I’m writing to share the news [...]

  • U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi

    U.K. Chancellor Announces Emergency Measures for Freelancers

    The U.K. has finally announced an economic relief package for freelancers not in employment after much of the country’s creative industries shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a new self-employed income support scheme on Thursday. Self-employed individuals can claim 80% of their average income over the last three [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content