Chances are that neither the real 17th-century French writer Cyrano de Bergerac nor the “Cyrano de Bergerac” created by 19th-century playwright Edmond Rostand could have imagined the way that movie audiences would embrace the story.
Examples include José Ferrer’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1950 film adaptation, as well as the 1987 movie adaptation “Roxanne,” written by and starring Steve Martin. In both films, Cyrano’s trademark distinguishing physical quality was his nose.
One can’t help but wonder what de Bergerac and Rostand might make of the rock musical “Cyrano” (MGM/UA), directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement”), with a screenplay by Erica Schmidt (based on the stage play) and featuring songs by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner (of hipster band The National fame). Here, Cyrano is portrayed by Peter Dinklage, who is identified in the movie as a midget.
A costume piece with “Hamilton”-esque aspirations, unfortunately, “Cyrano” is a crushing disappointment. “Rapidly aging” orphan Roxanne (Haley Bennett) is under the watchful (and critical) eye of Marie (Monica Dolan), who reminds her that her prospects are fading and that she would be wise to respond quickly to the attentions of despised duke De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). Attending the theater one evening with De Guiche, Roxanne comes face to face with prospective romantic interests which don’t involve the duke.
The first is hot and handsome guardsman Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and the second is silver-tongued wit and writer Cyrano (Dinklage). Roxanne, who has known Cyrano since childhood, having been born and raised in the same town, admires her longtime friend but that’s where their connection ends.
Cyrano, of course, has been harboring strong affection for Roxanne for longer than he can remember. When it is revealed that Roxanne’s love-at-first-sight crush is on Christian, not Cyrano, he suffers the blow, and rises again. Matters are further complicated when the pretty but dumb Christian, agrees to let Cyrano write his letters to Roxanne for him.
On the one hand, this allows Cyrano to express his feelings for Roxanne without her knowledge. But when the impetuous Christian insists on speaking for himself, the relationship with Roxanne is threatened. Ultimately, a cruel twist of fate, at the hands of the demented De Guiche results in tragedy. But a sort of redemption lingers in the not-too-distant future.
So, what’s the problem, you ask? Remember, for Cyrano the proper usage of language and expression are the keys to everything. In that case, why saddle him, and the other characters, with the simplest of moon/June/spoon rhymes in the song lyrics? Even worse are the melodies which are as forgettable as they are indistinguishable. Plus, it might help if, say, Dinklage could carry a tune, at least as well as his co-stars.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.