PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Cyrano de Bergerac—A Curse of the Poet (God Nose)!

Opening Night   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Cyrano de Bergerac—A Curse of the Poet (God Nose)! Roxane (Jennifer Garner) got kisses on the hand from Christian de Neuvillette (Daniel Sunjata) and Cyrano de Bergerac (Kevin Kline) at the curtain call Nov. 1 at the Richard Rodgers—an apt gesture, given the three hours of classic triangulation that preceded it.
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The swashbuckler with the schnozzola — who has provided Tony- and Oscar-winning work for Jose Ferrer and, when musicalized, another Tony for Christopher Plummer — proved a pretty perfect fit for the always-nimble and nuanced Kline, who happens to have two Tonys and an Oscar (for the eclectic bag of mixed nuts he played in On the Twentieth Century, The Pirates of Penzance and "A Fish Called Wanda").

Kline bounded about the stage with his customary brio and bravado, looking very much like it was great to have a sword back in his hand again. The wit was rapier, too, and he nailed a minefield of laughs during the course of the evening without neglecting the heartbreak of a poetical spirit who pitches woo by proxy — sending in a more physically desirable specimen to mouth vaulted sweet-nothings to their mutual love interest.

Having given so completely and depletingly "at the office," Kline declined the afterparty at Spotlight Live — Times Square (nee Noche), a narrow four-story edifice with dim lighting, low-slung tables and lots of stairs. "Kevin doesn't do parties," his agent, Jeff Hunter, said. (Actually, he does — but with the look of a man who craves to be elsewhere.)

That left the spotlight at Spotlight Live to CIA agent Sydney Bristow ("Alias" Garner), who was hired by Susan Bristow (no kin), among other producers, to make what essentially is her Broadway debut. Her only previous brush with Broadway was understudying Kathryn Erbe and Patricia T. A. Ageheim in a Roundabout revival of A Month in the Country in 1995 with her "Alias" co-star, Ron Rifkin, and Helen Mirren.

"My first job in theatre," Garner said when asked, "was working as an apprentice at Paper Mill Playhouse where I struck the sets, made the costumes and scrubbed the toilets." Light years away from where she finds herself now: "It's is more than a dream come true. It's all dreams come true. I said it before and I mean it: The rehearsal process alone would have been thrilling for me, to get to work with these talented people and this play." Broadway is one of the new directions she has taken since "Alias" ran its five-year course. She can currently be seen on the big screen with Jamie Foxx in the Iraq war film, "The Kingdom," and will follow that next month with "Juno," a flip, fast-track comedy in which she adopts the child of unwed high-schoolers, Ellen Page and Michael Cera. ("I'm so proud of that, and I'm so happy the way people are embracing it. It's awesome.") After Cyrano, she will film "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" with Matthew McConaughey.

But, for now, she's reveling in what it feels like to finally be a Broadway actress. "I don't even know how I feel," she admitted. "I haven't processed it yet. I'm just happy I stayed on my feet and said everything that I was supposed to say. I feel lucky. I had a blast tonight, and I have a blast pretty much every day that I show up for work in any capacity, and tonight was just that feeling times a thousand." The thought that was running through her mind as she stepped on the stage, she said, was: "Don't fall down the stairs" — a genuine concern, given the elaborate 1640-vintage gowns that Gregory Gale has gussied her up with and the endless steep steps that set designer Tom Pye has arranged at the back of the stage for her to negotiate. "I have fallen down before, yes."

She won't be looking to other people for her acting validation. "No, thank you, I'm not going to look at the reviews." And, she won't be hanging out with the Broadway set. "I'm a mom, so no. I'll be here 15 more minutes, then go home [to Violet Anne Affleck, 2]."

This debut was made easier, she said, by the company she kept. "Kevin is a dreamboat in every way, such a gentleman. He has totally been my mentor throughout this. He's also the most gifted actor I can imagine working with. I still go to work and learn from him."

Sunjata echoed exactly the same sentiments: "Kevin is fantastic! The main reason that I took this job was to work with Kevin Kline, and I'm learning as much from him as I possibly can. He's a real master craftsman. Anybody in my position would be chomping at the bit to work with him. I just happened to have been fortunate enough to get the job."

Did it bother him having to play a character that is set up as a soulless, superficial male beauty? "On a certain level, it's flattering," he admitted, "but, if you go through what Christian does — feeling that people ignore any possibility of you having depth because of what they perceive on the outside — well, I guess that would be a bad thing. Taking a role like that in a play like this really speaks to your depth as opposed to your lack thereof."

Sunjata, who made his Broadway bow as the gay baseballer in Richard Greenberg's Tony-winning Take Me Out, plans to do more stage work after Cyrano's limited eight-week run (now that his TV firefighting series, "Rescue Me," has been doused).

British director David Leveaux has made a practice of populating Broadway with revivals (Fiddler on the Roof, The Glass Menagerie, Nine, Jumpers, et al.), so Cyrano fits right into his scheme of things. It came up, he said, "about two-and-a-half years ago when Kevin and I started talking about things that we wanted to do together. Lear was one, which he subsequently did, and I know he has a longing to act in or direct Three Sisters [which happens to be Leveaux's next undertaking—at The Abbey Players in Dublin]. Cyrano, we found, was a play we both loved, so there was this great meeting of minds."

They opted for the Anthony Burgess adaptation of Edmond Rostand's play — a version that Burgess originally wrote for Plummer to do straight and which was retained for the musical treatment which Michael J. Lewis composed for Plummer. "We looked at several translations," Leveaux allowed, "but there was just something about Burgess that seemed more direct and contemporary to us than the others. It seemed more muscular."

Then came the hurdle of locating the right nose for the title character. "It took a long time to find a nose that was both credible and preposterous. We tried to find a fine balance. Kevin has a great eye, so we sat around and tried different lengths, different sizes. We didn't want it to be so subtle people would think he just has a psychological problem."

Euan Morton, who made his Broadway debut in Taboo as a dead-on Boy George, almost became a dead drunk at the last critics' preview. "I set fire to myself," he announced lightly. "There are live candles on stage. I was playing a drunk in the tavern. I leaned back, and my hat caught on fire. It was Max Baker [Ragueneau] who saved my life."

Cast adversarially as a modified, rather gray-hearted villain (Comte de Guiche), Chris Sarandon said the rehearsal process "was a joy for me. Kevin gives you so much."

Kline hand-picked his own opponent for the big swordfighting sequence, and Carman Lacivita is grateful as all get-out for the shot: "If it weren't for Kevin, I wouldn't have had the opportunity. He saw something in the rehearsal, working with me, that allowed me to have that part. He said he was more comfortable working with me. It was a real gift. He was fun to work with, but we didn't take chances. Right off, he told me, 'Listen, Carmen, safety is number one for me. I put a guy's eye out before, swordfighting him.' He did, in college. He cut somebody in the eye in a swordfight, and he feels terrible about it. That's why it's important to him to be safe. He's a real pro, and I learned a lot from him. He was like a blade of grass. He feels every vibration and responds to it, and that allows you to do so much. I feel, just being in a scene with him, my own acting ability is better."

Most of the opening-night star power came from the spouses of the play's leading players: Tony-winning Joanna Gleason (with three Sarandon stepchildren), Ben Affleck and Phoebe Cates [Kline]. Even one of Kline's screen wives was glitteringly in attendance: Glenn Close, who was Oscar-nominated in that capacity in "The Big Chill." Affleck, trying to stay on the backburner as hubby of the evening's leading lady, surrendered politely to the paparazzi who promptly went into flickering spasms when he hit the red carpet. He was receiving compliments on "Gone Baby Gone," his excellent movie-directing debut. "I'm really enjoying the way it's being received," he admitted. "It just came out, and it takes a lot of work to go around and try to promote the movie and try to get it out there. I just got back from Europe, and I'm a little punchy from the process."

Other first-nighters included composer Frank Wildhorn (who has a Pulitzer Prize winner — Anna in the Tropics' Nilo Cruz —working on his next musical, Havana), columnist Roger Friedman, Patrick Vaccariello (conductor of the recent Gypsy), Richard Easton (who'll be starring at Classic Stage Company in January in a new David Ives play about Spinoza, called New Jerusalem, directed by Walter Bobbie), Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford, Ray Wills (set for the York Theatre salute to Joseph Stein Nov. 12), director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell (both just back from the London launch of their Hairspray), lyricist Sheldon Harnick and composer Jerry Bock, Never Gonna Dance's Peter Gerety (Hollywood-bound for a Clint Eastwood movie, The Changling: "I play a psychiatrist who tells Angelina Jolie she's nuts!") and Essie Davis.

The show began with fair warning: "Swords are used in this production, so please turn off your cell phones."

The cast of <i>Cyrano</i> takes its opening night bows on Broadway.
The cast of Cyrano takes its opening night bows on Broadway. Photo by Aubrey Reuben