PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: In Cyrano de Bergerac, L'amour Rides Again (But Not Side-Saddle)
By Harry Haun
Meet the first-nighters at the Broadway opening of Roundabout Theatre Company's Cyrano de Bergerac.
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."
Soller's Christian started out a blonde in previews but darkened into a brunette closer to the opening. "I had a Kurt Cobain wig, but they decided to tone it down and make the character a little more accessible to the audience. I'm glad they did."
But isn't it a little daunting to play someone who is acknowledged by all as a male beauty and, thus, a suitable vessel for Cyrano's sweet-nothings to Roxane? Do you ever doubt they got the wrong guy? "Every day, man, every day," he confessed with an embarrassed laugh. "I can't believe they cast me as Christian. That's not the side of the character I identify with. I identify with his humanity. He's got such a noble sense of honor, this thing we don't have nowadays in every day life.
"With the ladies, he has this handicap to follow through and succeed, and, historically, I've never been able to see the signs from the ladies. I've never been able to know when the window was open, so I guess maybe I identify with that."
Soller was letting his new status as a Broadway actor settle in. "It's something I always wanted to do — to be on Broadway and to do it with this cast and with Jamie. I worked once before with Jamie in London — in The Faith Machine by Alexi Kaye Campbell at the Royal Court, so I jumped at the chance to work with Jamie again, and, when I knew Doug was attached to this, I said, 'That's it. I gotta do it.' To work with people of this caliber, on Broadway, I can't compute it. I gotta pinch myself."
Wouldn't you know the most hissable character in the play — Comte de Guiche, who'd dare deflower the fair, loved-from-afar Roxane — is the most eloquently spoken! Patrick Page's pristine enunciation and long flowing hair recall that stylish fop, John Emery. Because of the resemblance, Emery was believed to be John Barrymore's illegitimate offspring and was, in fact, for four years, the only husband of Tallulah Bankhead. "Wouldn't you have loved to hear them talking!" quipped Page.
This is Page's third Cyrano role. "The first time I played Le Bret, then I played Cyrano in two productions, and now I'm de Guiche. One day I hope to play Ragueneau."
But, for now, de Guiche suits him just fine: "I like the growth of the character. I think he's surprising. It's a really interesting play in its period because villains were very clear-cut, 19th-century melodrama — 'I can't pay the rent'/'You must pay the rent.' And de Guiche has some of that in him but — it was written at the same time as Ibsen and Strindberg and Chekhov are beginning to write. There's a real depth and a melancholy I find to de Guiche that's interesting. The part is spare. You have to really land your moments because you're not given an enormous amount of text to do it in, and I find that to be really challenging, like writing in haiku."
Having played Cyrano twice before, why didn't he go out for understudy this time? "That would have been a lot of work," he pointed out. "This is a new translation. I've done two other translations. You always learn something new from a new translation. When you take a word and translate it, you're interpreting it because a given word can mean so many things. This translation is rougher, more modern, more muscular, sweatier, grittier. That side really comes out in this version."
Almost all of Page's Broadway career has been spent in the same half-block area on 42nd Street. He previously played the American Airlines Theatre as Henry VIII to Frank Langella's Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons. He comes to de Guiche from next door at the Foxwoods Theatre where he was The Green Goblin in Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark. Across the street at the New Amsterdam, he has done The Lion King and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! But not even the imminent Christmas coming of the Grinch could shake him loose from de Guiche, so the role will be played by Jeff McCarthy (a.k.a. Officer Lockstock of Urinetown).
The niftiest trick of the night — and both actors can list it as a special skill on their resumes — occurs in Ragueneau's patisserie when Peter Bradbury pitches a piece of bread across the table into the mouth of Andy Grotelueschen. "This week it was four out of five," crowed Grotelueschen. "We never, ever, worked on it. Peter would toss it to me. I recognized that he had a really good toss, and I thought, 'I don't have to catch this with my hands. I'm going to catch it with my mouth.' That's what I did."
Among the vets in support are worthies like Geraldine Hughes, Max Baker (who's Le Bret this time out but was Raueneau in the 2007 Cyrano and saved Euan Morton from being barbequed when his feathered hat got too close to a live candle on stage), Drew McVety, Tim McGeever and Bill Buell. The latter, who's pastry chef Ragueneau this time out, summed it all up with: "What I love most about this show is being with this company. It's an ensemble piece, and everyone counts. Doug acts like he's just another member of the company. For me, that has been the best thing."
Among the first-nighters in attendance were Jeremy Bobb, an actor at liberty but "shaking the tree, shaking the tree"; Edward Hibbert; the respective book writers of the new Cinderella, a revised Unsinkable Molly Brown and Assassins, Douglas Carter Beane, Dick Scanlan and John Weidman; a smashing-looking Cynthia Nixon, back (from Wit) to her natural blondeness, doing a little mild drum-beating for "World Without End," her eight-part mini-series that premieres Oct. 17; Margaret Colin, working on the final episode of "Gossip Girl" — then theatah ("if you behave yourself"); Santino Fontana, the once and future Prince Charming, with girlfriend Jessica Hirschberg; the erstwhile Mrs. Potts/Mrs. Lovett, Beth Fowler, fresh from the pilot of a new Netflix Network series, "Orange is the New Black" ("I'm Sister Engels. I chain myself to a flagpole in front of nuclear facilities too many times, and they put me in jail. Kate Mulgrew is in jail with me."); composer Ned Ginsberg; producer Keith Langner; costumer Susan Hilferty and composer Charles Strouse, bracing for the third Annie coming Nov. 8); Brooke Shields, fresh from a "Good Morning America" guest-shot and a grueling week of The Exonerated; Simon Jones (uttering words no one ever expected to hear from him: "My new CD is out" — referring to the Encores! cast recording of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes); Sam Tsoutsouvas, on his night off from God of Vengeance; Laura Osnes; the once-Presidential Ben Walker, now bound for Cat On a Hot Tin Roof; birthday girl Jane Krakowski, Adelaide to Hodge's Nathan Detroit; Mark Junek and David West Read; lyricist Sheldon Harnick, promising a new ending when Encores! encores Fiorello! in January.
The opening night party was held four doors down from the theatre at B.B. King (or, as we say en francaise, Bebe King). In addition to placards about the fun things you can do with Rokk Vodka — Swashbuckler Libation (with orange juice) and Baiser de Roxane (with cranberry juice) — there were some that mentioned the unmentionable (that is, the notorious nose!).
I leave you with a few of my favorites:
"He that has a great nose thinks everybody is speaking of it." (Thomas Fuller)
"I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose." (Woody Allen)
"Mathematics are well and good, but nature keeps dragging us around by the nose." (Albert Einstein)
"When I want any good head work done, I always choose a man, if possible, with a long nose." (Napoleon Bonaparte)
"My nose itched, and I knew I should drink wine or kiss a fool." (Jonathan Swift)
"There is nothing so difficult to marry as a large nose." (Oscar Wilde)
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