Friday, May 22, 2020

114. CYRANO. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Christopher Plummer and company
 In Lieu of Reviews"

Reviews of live theatre being impossible during these days of the pandemic, THEATRE'S LEITER SIDE is pleased to provide instead accounts of previous theatre seasons--encompassing the years 1970-1975-for theatre-hungry readers. If you'd like to know the background on how this previously unpublished series came to be and what its relationship is to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and revival between 1920 and 1950), please check the prefaces to any of the entries beginning with the letter “A.” See the list at the end of the current entry.

Leigh Berry, Mark Lamos.
CYRANO [Musica/Friendship/Military/Period/Romance/War] B/LY: Anthony Burgess; M: Michael J. Lewis; SC: Edomond Rostan’s play, Cyrano de Bergerac; D: Michael Kidd; S: John Jensen; C: Desmond Heeley; L: Gilbert Hemsley, Jr.; P: Richard Gregson and APJAC International; T: Palace Theatre; 5/13/73-6/2/73 (49)

Anthony Burgess’s successful adaptation of Rostand’s 1897 romantic classic about the long-nosed, poetic, master-fencer, staged by Michael Langham at Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theatre, was turned into this elaborate Broadway musical. Despite some highly favorable notices, it went quickly to its rest.

The major argument put forward against it was that musicalizing the play added nothing to it that was not already contained in the melody of Rostand’s verse, the color of his emotions, the panache of his characters, and the spectacle of his backgrounds. Burgess’s perhaps too literary lyrics and dialogue were not the problem, although John Simon and Walter Kerr did do battle with some of their perceived infelicities. Nor did the main issue lie in the staging, the décor, the ensemble, the dueling scenes, or the tour-de-force dynamism of star Christopher Plummer in the leading role.

Christopher Plummer, Leigh Berry.
The culprit, most agreed, was Michael J. Lewis’s pedestrian, derivative music, which only served to underscore the unnecessary tampering that the play had undergone. As Kerr, among others, observed, most of “the tunes that supplant some of Rostand’s elaborately phrased setpieces . . . are a shade less exhilarating than sheer language might have been.” Or, as Brendan Gill put it, “Rostand’s bittersweet lightness of tone is made heavy by the explicitness of song.”

For Plummer, the full red carpet of homage was rolled out. The man could do anything well, the critics agreed, from tossing off an epigram with aplomb, to dancing through a grueling dueling scene, to romancing a longed-for mistress with quivering poignancy, to joking about his nose in the most superheroic fashion.

Paul Berget, Tim Nissen, Christopher Plummer, Leigh Berry, Anita Dangler.

Typical of the benisons he inspired was Harold Clurman’s: “He is a spectacularly endowed actor. He is handsome, he handles the rapier flashily . . . , he sings well, he has bravado, a fine speaking voice, humor, intelligence, a feeling for language, and an admirable sense of the stage.” Yet Clurman was constrained to say, as was Kerr, that the demands of the role and the staging made the performance a spectacular technical feat lacking Cyrano’s internal reverberations, “the regret and sorrow, the real sadness and its compensation through pride.”

Plummer won Best Actor awards from the Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Tony for his efforts, while his Roxana, Leigh Berry, was granted a Tony nomination for best Featured Actress, Musical. Others involved in the large company included Arnold Soboloff as Ragueneau, Mark Lamos as Christian, James Blendick as Le Bret, Anita Dangler as Roxana’s Duenna, Louis Turenne as de Guiche, and, in the minor role of “Foodseller,” Tovah Feldshuh.

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement/
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta
L’Amante Anglais         
American Gothics
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little       
And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers
And Whose Little Boy Are You?
Anna K.
Anne of Green Gables
Any Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead
As You Like It
The Au Pair Man

Baba Goya [Nourish the Beast]
The Ballad of Johnny Pot
Barbary Shore
The Bar that Never Closes
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel
The Beauty Part
The Beggar’s Opera
Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellens
Be Kind to People Week
Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill
Bette Midler’s Clams on a Half-Shell Revue
Black Girl
Black Light Theatre of Prague
Black Picture Show
Black Sunlight
The Black Terror
Black Visions
Les Blancs
Blasts and Bravos: An Evening with H,L. Mencken
Blue Boys
Bob and Ray—The Two and Only
Boesman and Lena
The Boy Who Came to Leave
A Breeze from the Gulf
Brief Lives
Brother Gorski
Bullshot Crummond
The Burnt Flower Bed
Button, Button
Buy Bonds, Buster

The Cage
Candide (1)
Candide (2)
The Candyapple
Captain Brassbound’s Conversion
The Caretaker
La Carpa de los Raquichis
The Carpenters
The Castro Complex
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Changing Room
Charles Abbott and Son
Charley’s Aunt
Charlie Was Here and Now He’s Gone
Chemin de Fer
The Cherry Orchard
The Chickencoop Chinaman
The Children
Children! Children!
Children in the Rain
Children of the Wind
The Children’s Mass
A Chorus Line
The Chronicle of Henry VI: Part 1, Part II,
The Circle
Clarence Darrow
Cold Feet
Conditions of Agreement
Coney Island Cycle
The Constant Wife
The Contractor
The Contrast
The Constant Wife
The Country Girl
Crazy Now
The Creation of the World and Other Business
Crown Matrimonial
The Crucible
Crystal and Fox