Exit Lines: “Cyrano”

Written by Exit Lines, Theatre

I never miss a Peter Dinklage musical.

Peter Dinklage, relieved of his Game of Thrones duties, should make an excellent Cyrano de Bergerac, the dashing if proboscis-challenged hero of Edmund Rostand’s 19th-century classic. And The National, hitmakers in the realms of roots rock and alt-country, should be able to pull off a musical. So why does Dinklage in the Off Broadway musical Cyrano miss, and by more than by a nose?

For one thing, his Cyrano is missing his nose. It’s a major element for a Cyrano to forgo, which set me to wondering: are we to think that this Cyrano’s impediment is Dinklage’s stature? That makes no sense, given how the actor has parlayed it for an estimable career, and seems rather curious on the part of director Erica Schmidt, who is also the actor’s spouse. We’ve long since gotten over his height. But the answer may be staring me in the face: Dinklage, try as he might, can’t sing, or can sing, but only like Leonard Cohen with a persistent quaver. Did the nose make it that much harder to hit the notes? A fancy appendage didn’t stop Christopher Plummer from winning a Tony in 1973 for his singing Cyrano, and when Schmidt’s streamlined adaptation sticks to its source the actor is dashing and touching in equal measure. A musical Cyrano without a musical Cyrano is however  seriously tone-deaf.

As for The National, well, let’s say a cast album and their own album of their score is planned, and I’m looking forward to listening to the latter. There are adept singers in the show: as Roxanne, the object of Cyrano’s secret, tormented obsession, Hamilton alum Jasmine Cephas Jones offers what resources she can despite a lack of harmony with her co-star, and former Glee castmember Blake Jenner is adorkably clumsy as the handsome Christian, he of the famously scrambled scene where he tries to read Roxanne love letters actually penned by Cyrano. The band too is top-notch, giving us something for the ears in the absence of much for the eyes on a rather bare and indistinctly designed stage bigger than the one for most New Group productions. But the songs, pretty as some of them are, gloomy as most of them are, don’t register strongly as show music–they’re just sort of there, conveying neither soaring nor shattering emotion. (So it goes for the choreographic “movement,” a cliche by now, which only sparks during a battle scene.) What does it say for Cyrano that the best of its tunes, the plaintive “What I Deserve,” is given to the show’s nominal villain, De Guiche (Ritchie Coster)? Only that this musical lacks what its main character has in spades, panache.