Neither a fully formed musical nor a staged concept album, this adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac, featuring music and lyrics by members of the band the National, struggles to find its groove.
What it does have is a superb central performance from Peter Dinklage, but when he’s not on stage, adaptor and director Erica Schmidt’s minimalist production feels stiff and awkward. The remaining cast members deal uneasily with the play’s anachronistic mix of modern and traditional.
Dinklage’s Cyrano is a delight. He’s a boisterous wordsmith and swordsman who is secretly in love with Jasmine Cephas Jones’ Roxanne. When she falls for the pretty but inarticulate Christian (Blake Jenner), he and Cyrano concoct a plan to woo her with letters written in Christian’s name.
Though Dinklage’s singing voice feels strained at times, he’s a good fit for Cyrano, relishing his sarcastic barbs and emotional swings, his expressive face movingly conveying Cyrano’s love, disappointment and fear. Beside him, Jones and Jenner look a little lost, struggling to connect their characters’ old-fashioned motivations with the work’s contemporary tone.
The songs are sumptuous. They enhance the romantic tone of the show, favouring orchestrated ballads and delicate underscoring. But though Christine Jones and Amy Rubin’s design mixes the past and the present, the elongated wooden wall with handwritten sentences that dominates the set would look more appropriate in a quirky cafe and Roxanne is saddled with unruly sparkling tulle skirts.
Schmidt’s direction is stilted and static. The actors frequently stand alone on a motionless stage, though sometimes the small ensemble move around them in ‘cinematic’ slow-motion.
While the National’s score is exceptional, both it, and Dinklage’s skill and charisma as an actor, are squandered here.