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Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Theater Latté Da
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Catch Me If You Can, Buyer & Cellar, Watermelon Hill and A Night with Janis Joplin

Kendall Anne Thompson, Bradley Greenwald,
and David Darrow

Photo by Dan Norman
C., a new musical with book and lyrics by Bradley Greenwald and music by Robert Elhai, based on Edmond Rostand's classic play Cyrano de Bergerac soars to life in Theater Latté Da's world premiere production at the Ritz Theatre. C. is a product of Theater Latté Da's Next 20/20 initiative to nurture the creation of new musical theater work, and immediately proves the value of that effort, especially given a pitch-perfect cast led by Mr. Greenwald as Cyrano.

C. takes its title from the way the hero of the piece, Cyrano de Bergerac, signs love letters he writes on behalf of Christian, a cadet in his military unit to bright and beautiful Roxane, a woman they both love. Cyrano has deeply loved Roxanne since they were children together, but his physical ugliness—famously, his enormous nose—keeps him from declaring his feelings. Christian, who has only just met Roxanne, is taken by her physical beauty, as she is by his. However, along with physical beauty Roxanne requires of her beloved a beautiful heart, as expressed in poems and letters. Christian has not an ounce of wit for the expression of feelings. Cyrano, on the other hand, is as renowned for his word-play as for his swordplay. He agrees to help Christian woo Roxanne by composing beautiful phrased letters for Christian to deliver. Closing each missive with the letter C, Cyrano tells his protégé that it stands for Christian while, in truth, it is Cyrano's way of taking ownership for his own feelings.

Past efforts to make a musical of Cyrano de Bergerac have not fared well. In both 1973 and 1993 attempts failed with both critics and the box office on Broadway. Calvin Berger, a loose adaption that places the story in a high school setting, has had several regional productions (including last year's mounting by Minneapolis Musical Theatre), but has not been widely seen. What Greenwald and Elhai have done with C. is to create not a song and dance show, but a song and poetry show—and it works. This small but beautifully rendered musicalization successfully brings music to Cyrano's poetic voice.

Lest you think "song and poetry" means the show is a precious, erudite affair, I can assure you that it is full of heartfelt drama, swash-buckling action, and robust humor. On several occasions characters break out in song to express their feelings, but more often the music falls within the context of the play, using traveling minstrels to bring melody to the poetry that comes naturally to Cyrano, Roxanne and others—though not Christian. An out-of-context song in which he reveals his utter lack of eloquence makes clear how out of his league he is in this company, and is also highly entertaining as delivered by David Darrow in the manner of a music hall number. Robert Elhai has composed lovely melodies, mainly drawing on folks sounds of Cyrano's period.

Director Peter Rothstein continues to display mastery of musical theater, giving fluid movement to the many parts of the story, staging scenes with complete clarity, and—with the exception of Christian's song noted above—assuring that each musical piece begins and ends organically, never interrupting the narrative. The functional setting designed by Jim Smart has a collection of rustic 17th century facades, with a central area that can be draped off to create a stage for the opening performance-within-the play. A large tree in the center looms over the entire setting, giving a sense of a pastoral to the play, though the tree's meaning is not revealed until the final scene. Rich Hamson's costumes are elaborate as befitting the time frame, yet subdued in gold, beige, and white hues. The play is beautifully lit by Marcus Dillard to highlight mood shifts from raucous to romantic, and merry to melancholy.

Greenwald, as Cyrano, gives a wonderful, fully formed performance, making good use of his beautiful baritone, his eloquence in speech, comic flair, and commanding physical presence. A prosthetic nose that projects out comically—as Cyrano states, "preceding him wherever he goes by a quarter of an hour"—serves the purpose of bringing a disfigured quality to his otherwise handsome face. He has perhaps more of the poetry and less of the panache seen in some Cyranos, more nonchalance than bravado as he defeats all comers in swordplay (exquisitely choreographed by fight director Annie Enneking), but it all works in creating a character that is of whole cloth.

Kendall Anne Thompson is a lovely Roxanne, with a beautiful voice and robust energy. She projects a woman possessing intelligence and humor, ready to embrace life with confidence and vigor. Her embrace of a more sober wisdom in the closing scene is skillfully portrayed. David Darrow's Christian is handsome, but projects a boyish rather than rakish physicality, making him seem less of a threat than a partner to Cyrano in pursuit of Roxanne's love.

John Middleton as the nobleman with his own designs on Roxanne is the villain of the piece and comes across less odious than in other productions of Cyrano I have seen, in keeping with the tone of a story of human longing and folly, rather than of exaggerated types. Max Wojtanowicz is endearing as Papadeau, the baker with a poet's heart. The remainder of the cast all play their parts well and sing beautifully.

Could C. be improved? Greenwald's book takes liberties with anachronisms, such as Roxanne and Papadeau bringing food and comfort to Cyrano's company on a 17th century battlefield via automobile rather than horse-drawn wagon, and references to Insulin and Mrs. O'Leary of Chicago Fire fame. Each of these moments prompts audience laughter, but there is enough humor within the text and in the action of the play, that these feel pinned on at the expense of, rather than in service to, the beautifully wrought play.

Nonetheless, C. succeeds at making the romantic heart of Cyrano de Bergerac beat with more joy and stirs its well of regret with more longing. It is a gift to Twin Cities theatergoers, one that deserves an extended life beyond this maiden voyage.

C. continues through April 24, 2016, at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $35.00 - $45.00. For tickets call 612-339-3303 or go to theaterLatté

Book and Lyrics: Bradley Greenwald, adopted from the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand; Music: Elhai; Director: Peter Rothstein; Music Director: Jason Hansen; Dramaturg: Elissa Adams; Set Designer: Jim Smart; Costume Designer: Rich Hamson; Lighting Designer: Marcus Dillard; Sound Designer and Engineer: Sean Healey; Properties Master: Benjamin Olsen; Fight Director: Annie Enneking; Technical Director: Stein Rosburg; Production Manager: Dylan Wright; Stage Manager: Tiffany K. Orr; Assistant Stage Manager: Lisa M. Smith; Assistant Scenic Designer: Mika Ichikawa.

Cast: Bear Brummel (a chorus boy, a cadet, a priest), Sarah Burk (a Bohemian), Caleb Fritz Craig (a chorus boy, a cadet), David Darrow (Christian Beauregard), Bradley Greenwald (Cyrano de Bergerac), Jason Hansen (a Bohemian, a cadet), Janet Hanson (Sister Claire), Kim Kivens (Mrs. DeWight, Atchette, Sister Agnes), Grace Lowe (L'Allouette), John Middleton (Senator DeWight), Luke Pickman (a Bohemian, a cadet), James Ramlet (Orson Déjaloux), Matt Riehle (Bellrose, a cadet, a Bohemian), Kendall Anne Thompson (Roxanne), Evan Tyler Wilson (Uncle Monty, a cadet), Max Wojtanowicz (Papadeau).

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