Of Beauty and Panache: Initial Impressions on Cyrano de Bergerac – September 14, 2012

Again, as mentioned in a previous blog entry, the first preview of a play or musical is a highly emotional experience for the cast and audience – both the cast and audience are facing the excitement of the Unknown – for the cast, it is the responsibility of presenting a good first impression to an audience who may or may not know what to expect, so there’s a palpable surge of anticipation and expectation within the theater. Such was the case at the first preview performance of Cyrano de Bergerac currently playing at the American Airlines Theatre for a limited run from September 14 through November 25, 2012.

[Disclaimer: In the spirit of full disclosure, I should state that I am a great admirer of Douglas Hodge, actor, director, singer/songwriter, and all around nice guy, whom I had last seen onstage in La Cage aux Folles – my adventures with that production  and its cast will be an entire blog series of its own. I was ecstatic that he would be returning to Broadway, albeit in a limited run, but I was looking forward to seeing him in a play – so this is an advanced warning that parts of this blog entry may come across as being extremely fan-girly.]

I had bought my ticket (rear mezzanine center left) a little over a month ago at the box office, so I proceeded to the theatre and had asked one of the ushers where the stage door was, as I had brought Doug some light pink roses and a copy of a scrapbook of the photos I had taken during the 2010-2011 run of La Cage. When informed that while the theater’s unofficial stage door was around the other side of the street, the actors would sometimes leave by the front of the theater instead, and the house management would not know from which exit the actors would leave, I was faced with a mini-dilemma. I wanted to be sure to see him after the show (as he would already be at the theater beforehand) and the usher had advised me to speak with the House Manager, who would be able to ensure that my gift would be delivered. So after writing a brief note, handed over the roses and scrapbook to the House Manager (who was standing outside the main lobby).

Light pink roses & the La Cage Scrapbook

Cyrano de Bergerac, written by Edmond Rostand, tells the tale of Cyrano, a brash soldier in the French Army with a flair for composing eloquent verse and biting quips that equals his aptitude as a duelist, who is love with his distant cousin Roxane, but finds himself consumed with self-doubt due to his profoundly large nose. Roxane is in turn in love with Christian (and he with her), a handsome young soldier who has little capacity for wit and verse. Moreover, both men have to contend with the Comte de Guiche, who is also enamored with Roxane. Cyrano offers to aid Christian in his courtship with Roxane by supplying Christian with his verse, believing that with his wit and Christian’s looks, they would be able to win Roxane’s heart. The play had been written in rhyming couplets which added to the elegance of the plot. The production had a dynamic feel with an effective set design, dramatic lighting (including effective strobe lights and appropriate fog) and bold musical accents (there was some music and singing within, relevant to the plot).

The cast was amazing, and as it was the first preview, I did not perceive any first night nerves, or any noticeable mishaps. Having seen Douglas Hodge previously in La Cage aux Folles, I was fully aware of his comic timing, his capacity for impersonations, and his ability to completely inhabit a character; it was quite a revelation to see his dramatic (non-singing) side as Cyrano – the range of emotions he manages to convey in the span of the nearly three-hour play, from bubbling rage to soulful pathos was astounding. I also quite amused that in this production, Cyrano initial entrance is prefaced by his voice echoing around the theater, Phantom style*. Other notable performances came from Clémence Poésy, best known as “Fleur Delacour” in the Harry Potter films, who was impressive in her Broadway debut as Roxane exuding her own brand of courage and charm, though I did note that the intensity of her French accent fluctuated throughout and Patrick Page, who also completely inhabited the precise and haughty role of the Comte de Guiche with great relish.

As this was the first preview, I wasn’t sure if the actors would immediately come out the stage door, or which exit they would leave, but nevertheless I opted to wait in the front lobby – in the note I had written that accompanied my gift, I had asked to meet him (if possible) in the front lobby. I didn’t have to wait too long – Doug came out about twenty minutes after the curtain fell and promptly thanked me for the scrapbook and flowers and greeted me with a hug. When I noticed that he was wearing the same red shirt he had worn a little over two years ago when I had seen him at the Longacre stage door, he laughed and commented that he noticed that too (there was a photo of him in that same shirt in the scrapbook) and thought that he needed to get some new clothes! He signed my playbill, and we chatted a bit before he had to head back in (the cast were having first preview post-show drinks); I thank him and bade him a good night. As I headed home, I thought it was very considerate of him to have taken the time to come out to meet and chat with me (albeit briefly) – this is one of the reasons why I love the theatre and theatre actors, for their generosity in spirit.

Me and Douglas Hodge, outside the theatre

Needless to say, I highly recommend seeing Cyrano de Bergerac if you’re looking for rapid-fire verse spoken by cast of talented actors that run the gamut from comical to romantic to tragic. Limited run through November 25, 2012.

Signed playbill

*Update 10/07/2012 – Went to see the show again (thanks to the TDF Raffle Table at this year’s Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Auction) and sat mid orchestra left. Unless there had been a change in Cyrano’s initial entrance since the first preview, or whether it was the fact that I had sat in the rear mezzanine center left and was obstructed from my vantage point at the time, Cyrano’s initial entrance was still his booming voice, but was further enhanced by his rather dramatic entrance from the exit doors on the far right side of the theater, with him coming up the right aisle and back around towards the stage. Doug’s performance was astounding as always, his voice a bit strained at times (though considering the amount of dialogue he has, I’m sure it would take a toll after a while) and his final speech brought some tears to my eyes.

The aforementioned mini-dilemma with regards to from which exit the actors would leave the theatre (whether it be via the front of the theater of through the back stage door) was present once again, and I had not had the chance to ask an usher (or find the house manager) which option was the correct one – needless to say, I must have chosen incorrectly [the back stage door], as I was unable to see any of the cast. But that’s all right – I do plan to see this play several more times before the end of the limited run.

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The Journey Towards Neverland: Visiting Peter and the Starcatcher – September 2, 2012

Sometimes the journey you intend to take and the choices you make lead to somewhere quite unexpected and extraordinary. I had fully intended to attend the final performance of One Man, Two Guvnors on September 2nd, so I started my journey to Times Square and to the TKTS booth in Duffy Square with the hopes of obtaining a discounted ticket. When I arrived shortly before noon, I saw that One Man Two Guvnors was not among the shows listed on the TKTS board, which was a good indication of the show’s success and popularity, but not good for me, as I almost always have been able to obtain closing performance tickets there. Subsequently, I made my way to the Music Box Theatre and saw that there was a line outside the box office (on Sundays, the box office opens at 12PM), so I waited on line, hoping there would be standing room tickets; shortly after the box office opened, one of the box office staff came out and announced that there would not be any standing room, and that there was only full price tickets sold. As full price was announced at $142, the line dissipated quickly, with me included – as much as I enjoyed the play, I personally could not justify paying full price (and that full price amount) for a rear mezzanine seat, which were the only seats remaining. I headed back to the TKTS booth and looked over the discounts available as most of the other shows listed were either ones I had already seen or had little to no interest of seeing, I opted to see Peter and the Starcatcher, and obtained a mid orchestra (left) seat.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a hilarious play with music, based on the book Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, tells the backstory of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and the origins of Neverland. In this prequel, Peter is known as “Boy”, orphaned at a young age with no memory of his own name (or if he ever had one), Captain Hook starts out as “Black Stashe”, highly theatrical with a penchant for puns and misused words and Neverland was first known as Mollusk Island. Much of the cast narrate the story at certain points of the play, using props with great hilarity and imagination – ropes simulating door frames or ocean waves, flapping yellow rubber gloves to simulate birds and model ships. The show structure had such a light-hearted feel, with quick-paced dialogue (including some pop culture references), low-tech special effects, and some incidental songs woven in, and most of the well-known elements of the Peter Pan lore are also featured, including the pirates, the giant crocodile (known as “Mr. Grin”) and mermaids.

The cast was astounding, some playing multiple roles throughout – notable standouts were Adam Chanler-Berat, as Boy (later Peter) who portrayed the innocence and world-weariness of a boy is distrustful of adults and yearns to stay a boy “for a while longer” with equal balance, Celia Keenan-Bolger, as Molly Aster, world-wise and serious-minded, who yearns to be a full-fledged Starcatcher (of the magical starstuff), Matthew Saldivar as Black Stashe, who played the part with great panache and great comic timing and Kevin Del Aguila, as Smee, the perfect foil and sidekick to Black Stashe.

The stage door experience was great, as always, with a decent turnout waiting for the cast, with one fan having the cast sign a pineapple (a pineapple is a prominent prop piece in the show and a fun running gag). The cast was having as much fun signing playbills, chatting with fans and posing for photos (some channeling their on-stage characters when posing for photos):

Clockwise from top left: Adam Chanler-Berat, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Matthew Saldivar & Kevin Del Aguila

All in all, Peter and the Starcatcher is among the few truly hilarious, family friendly plays on Broadway now* and it will certainly appeal to fans of the Peter Pan tales, as well as to all who are still children at heart. TTFN!

 

*Update 01/13/13: While it has been announced that Peter and the Starcatcher is closing on Broadway on January 20, 2013, it has also been announced that the play will be moving off-Broadway in spring 2013, though the exact details have not yet been determined**.

**Update 01/18/13: Per playbill.com, Peter and the Starcatcher  will be transferring to the New World Stages and performances will begin March 18, 2013.

Signed playbill