×

On Wednesday evening in New York City, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer offered its return to the original movie musical with “Cyrano,” director Joe Wright’s musical adaptation of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” starring Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison Jr.

At the New York City premiere, held at the SVA Theater, cast and studio executives reflected on the film’s unusual journey from an off-Broadway musical to a $30 million MGM feature film.

“The whole reason I set out to do this project was because I really, really wanted to be on Broadway,” Bennett, who plays the leading role of Roxanne, told Variety at the premiere. “We started out in this tiny room six or seven years ago, and in my imagination, we might have ended up on a Broadway stage together. But, almost unbelievably, here we are at a movie premiere.”

In truth, “Cyrano,” composed by rock group the National, had checked all the boxes for an eventual Broadway run: In small rooms around New York City, the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, playwright Erica Schmidt and her husband Dinklage tinkered with the adaptation. They held workshops and found Bennett to read as Roxanne. In 2018, they mounted a small original production out of town with the Connecticut non-profit Goodspeed Musicals, starring Dinklage and Bennett. And, a year later, the production made its off-Broadway debut at the Daryl Roth Theater for an acclaimed New York run (not including Bennett, who had exited to film Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy”).

By then, however, it was too late for Broadway ambitions. Wright, the high-powered British director known for “Pride & Prejudice” and “Darkest Hour,” had seen the production in Connecticut and set his eyes on a feature film.

“There were like 120 seats in that Connecticut theater,” he recalled at the New York premiere. “By the end of the third act, I started weeping. I carried on weeping through the fourth act, and I picked myself up at the end of the fifth act and realized the show had had a big impact on me.”

“I saw the show in Connecticut three times,” he continued, “then I called up Working Title,” the British production company which has mounted all of Wright’s blockbusters. “They flew someone over to see the show, and that’s when we started developing.”

Largely looked over by the Academy Awards but nominated for best costume design, “Cyrano” represents an intriguing gesture by studios like MGM. At a time when Hollywood and Broadway continue to volley the same properties back and forth until they’re beaten to death, “Cyrano” is an attempt to build on an oft-adapted, yet lesser known IP.

“When we came to MGM, we wanted to see if we could revive its legacy of original musicals,” said MGM chairman Michael de Luca, famous for his gutsy production decisions. “It’s a little bit more challenging today than it was in the 1920s and ’30s. But, when we were presented with this opportunity by Joe, we thought ‘Cyrano’ fit the bill perfectly.”

“You can find real gems off the beaten path and go where the big guys aren’t in terms of giant adaptations of Broadway musicals. You can find things that are edgy or audacious or original,” added de Luca, who adapted “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” while serving as production president of New Line Cinemas. “When you’re a studio that doesn’t traffic in a lot of branded IP, you’ve got to take original swings.”