La de Hodge! Look who's back on Broadway — Douglas Hodge, the English actor and RADA grad who has followed one French title here (La Cage aux Folles, his Tony-winning bow) with a French title role (The Main Stem's 19th production of Cyrano de Bergerac, bounding into the American Airlines Theatre Oct. 11). En garde!
This is — simultaneously — a change of pace, mood and sexual preference for Hodge. Edmond Rostand's 1897 poet and swordsman is hardly the gay blade who had something for the boas in Saint-Tropez, and the rhyming couplets that translator Ranjit Bolt has given him to juggle here are quite different from Jerry Herman's buoyant lyrics.
Hodge doesn't waste a second establishing his new persona, storming the theatre in what amounts to a breaking-and-entering entrance, flinging open the exit door onto 43rd Street, heckling the pompous and tedious un-entertainer on stage, Le Bret, and continuing his criticism from all corners of the theatre, from orchestra to mezzanine.
It's what we call getting the show off to a David Letterman running start. "About four or five nights ago, I came up with that," Hodge later beamed with some well-earned self-satisfaction. "I run straight around in back of the orchestra seats all the way to the top of the mezzanine, do those lines, then down to the orchestra, around the orchestra and on stage, but it kinda enlivens the whole thing, I think. It's worth it."
He praised Roundabout topper Todd Haimes for allowing the production to preview its way to perfection, or at least near-perfection. "They have a three-and-a-half week rehearsal period here, then do previews that are really more rehearsals, changing lines, cutting bits, toning things so, by tonight, it's what we want it to be."
Hodge was finally able to confirm the worst kept secret around — that after the first of the year he follows the cinematic leads of Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp and takes onto the London stage the sweet-maker/tour-guide of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (a.k.a. "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory") by "Matilda" author Roald Dahl. Cabaret director Sam Mendes will helm the $16-million musical, with a musical book by David Greig and score by Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
"Can't wait, can't wait," he squealed with delight. "I'm meeting Sam noon Tuesday, and I'm going to read the script to him. We'll start talking about it here. He's in New York, editing and doing publicity for the new Bond film, 'Skyfall.' He and I will probably start working on it in February, proper." Previews begin May 18, 2013, at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane for an opening the following month.
A very serious, cerebral actor in London (Harold Pinter is a specialty), Hodge has only two previous musical-theatre roles to his credit — both, interestingly, roles played by Nathan Lane: Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls and Albin/Zaza in La Cage aux Folles (on film, Lane's vehicle was "The Birdcage"). "I don't know him at all, but, when I was here doing La Cage, I saw The Addams Family — and that was the first time I've seen him on stage, but I can see that he's a marvelous clown and a great man of the theatre."
Hodge anointed Jamie Lloyd, 32 years old next month, to steer him through the intricacies of Cyrano here because of some splendid stage teamwork in London.
"I directed him last year in Indadmissible Evidence at the Donmar Warehouse, a '60s play by John Osborne," Lloyd said. "It was an exceptional performance, I have to say, and we did a reading of it here at the Roundabout, thinking we'd do it here, and the feeling was that, for the theatre, it was too intimate and a little too bleak — but Todd really wanted to give Doug an opportunity to get his teeth into something as big as Cyrano, as impressive, and to run the gamut of emotion that goes with the role."
So Lloyd stepped up to the mark with Hodge, despite the fact that he didn't know the Rostand classic at all. "I hadn't read it. I hadn't seen it. I hadn't seen the movies — the Depardieu movie or the Jose Ferrer movie. I think, as a director, you often kind of read around those plays that are frequently revived and think, 'Well, why would anyone want to do this?' It was a great surprise to Doug and me that Todd let us get our teeth into this. But I think whatever play he picked out for Doug would feel exciting and unique because he brings his own particular dynamic to it."
Not only is Lloyd making his Broadway debut, but so too are the two people he hired to complete the story's triangle: Clemence Poesy as Roxane and Kyle Soller as Christian. "Bombast me with romance and wit," she implores Christian, her earnest but tongue-tied suitor. Enter, from the shadows, Cyrano, his heart swelling from his own love for Roxane. "Now, go collect your kiss," he tells the handsome youth. For all his heart and courage, Cyrano can't get beyond the large nose on his face.
"I really just wanted people who were right for the role," Lloyd said, explaining how his two new performers made it across the finish line. "We saw a lot of people for every single role, and that was the way we needed to go. To have Clemence Poesy as Roxane, a French actress—people forget this play is a French play, curiously, because it's become so much a part of our own culture. To remind everyone that it is a great classic piece of French literature by Rostand is, I think, very important."
Although she is French, Poesy says the word "theatre" like a proper Brit — probably the result of those three Harry Potter movies she made. Otherwise, the theatre she has done has been in France. Broadway, she admitted, "was a little scary. It has all been exciting and terrifying and the most fun I've had in a very long time."
Hodge had a lot to do with the fun part:. "Acting with him is the easiest, most amazing thing on earth. He's very generous as an actor, and he's fun to be around."
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