Now that TV behemoth Game of Thrones is over, the estimable Peter Dinklage has taken on a smaller-scale project: the new Off Broadway musical Cyrano, which casts the award-winning former Tyrion Lannister as Edmond Rostand’s iconic protagonist.
It’s produced by the New Group, a company that has never been afraid to stage edgy, unconventional works; the music and lyrics were written by members of the National (a band known for its moody indie rock); and the talented Erica Schmidt (who’s married to Dinklage) adapted and directs. All very promising on paper.
However, while the piece demonstrates (unnecessary) fidelity to the play’s 17th-century setting and five-act structure, the poetry of the original gets lost in Schmidt’s contemporary language. And no matter how much characters talk and sing and ruminate about romantic desire and unrequited love, their words don’t stir much emotion in this ponderous, underwhelming production.
Unlike a traditional Cyrano, Dinklage doesn’t don an oversize prosthetic nose to play the poet and soldier whose large schnoz leaves him feeling ugly and unworthy to love the beautiful Roxanne. The nose gets a brief mention, but given that Dinklage has his own distinct physical attribute, dwarfism (which does not), it’s implied that this is Cyrano’s unspoken hangup, and it’s an effective interpretation.
A tighter focus on the three central characters could have sharpened the storytelling, although a bigger problem is the lack of connection among the leads. Dinklage is not, to put it mildly, a strong singer, but he balances Cyrano’s hauteur and his self-loathing with aplomb. So it’s unfortunate that there’s little chemistry between him and Jasmine Cephas Jones’s Roxanne, who sings beautifully but doesn’t bring much complexity to her character’s inner struggles. This is also the case with Blake Jenner’s Christian, the handsome but dim solider who needs Cyrano’s words to woo Roxanne. There’s little sense of brotherhood or tenderness between the two.
Writing songs about longing and lamenting is familiar territory for the National. In addition to composing music for the pop-leaning songs, brothers Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner also skillfully accent the dialogue with continual underscoring, making the six-person offstage band an integral part of the show.
The lyrics, on the other hand – a collaboration between National lead singer Matt Berninger and his wife, Carin Besser – could just as easily have been written for songs from one of the band’s albums. “I’d give anything for someone to say to me / That no matter how bad it gets they won’t turn away from me,” Roxanne sings in the musical’s first song. Later, Cyrano pines for her with: “Have you ever wanted something / So badly you cannot breathe / Have you ever loved someone madly?” Heartfelt sentiments, but not exactly revelatory.
“I need more,” Roxanne sings in the pivotal scene where Cyrano woos her by proxy for Christian. So does this musical. Dinklage’s star power has already been a boon for ticket sales, but it’s hard to imagine even the most die-hard GoT fan falling for this Cyrano.
Until Dec 22. Tickets: thenewgroup.org