Kevin Kline confirms his reputation as one of our foremost interpreters of classical theater, playing the title role in Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. This visually sumptuous Broadway revival at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, directed by David Leveaux, still has a few rough spots, but Kline’s masterful performance as the large-nosed Cyrano is simply magnificent.
Rostand’s play — seen here in a vibrant and poetic translation/adaptation by Anthony Burgess — follows the travails of Cyrano whose quick wit, bravery, and skill with both pen and sword win him far more enemies than friends. He is desperately in love with his beauteous cousin Roxane (Jennifer Garner), but fears his deformed features would prevent her from ever returning the affection. This is apparently confirmed by Roxane’s infatuation with the pretty, but dumb soldier Christian (Daniel Sunjata). Cyrano offers to supply Christian with the words to woo his love, seeing it as the only way to express his utter devotion.
Kline’s mastery of the language Cyrano speaks so trippingly on the tongue is complemented by his bold swagger, comic expressions, and ability to wordlessly let the audience see into the heart and soul of his character. He also makes Cyrano’s physical prowess convincing, thanks in no small part to fight director Mark Deklin, who choreographs Cyrano’s extended sword fight with the Vicomte de Valvert (Carman Lacivita) that firmly establishes the character’s proficiency.
Garner, best known for her film and television work, radiates a buoyant energy and youthful vigor that makes it clear why so many men are smitten with Roxane. Unfortunately, the actress doesn’t quite deliver the goods in her character’s more emotional moments, particularly her final scene with Christian.
For his part, Sunjata is all rough edges disguised in a beautiful façade. Not only is he handsome, Christian is the best dresser of anyone in the show, thanks to costume designer Gregory Gale, who does excellent work all around. Sunjata’s manner of speech is blunt and unrefined, making a stark contrast to Kline’s more elegant tones. However, at times, Sunjata takes the conceit a little too far, indicating Christian’s intentions in far too obvious — and unconvincing — a manner.
The three actors are at their absolute best during the balcony scene in which Cyrano, under the cover of darkness, takes over from Christian to speak to Roxane in his own voice. Their differing reactions to what he says, and the sincerity of the emotions underlying his words, are both comic and moving.
Chris Sarandon succeeds in the difficult task of making the Comte de Guiche, who begins the play as a cardboard cut-out villain, slowly transform into a man of honor and integrity. Good work is also done by Max Baker, a pastry chef with a love of poetry, and Euan Morton as Ligniere, a poet whom Cyrano saves from death by single-handedly battling 100 men. As Cyrano’s right-hand man Le Bret, John Douglas Thompson has a solid presence, but fails to distinguish himself.
Tom Pye’s scenic design makes good use of the height of the Richard Rodgers stage to create a brick wall that seems to stretch high into the heavens. The playing area proves quite flexible, as well, suggesting the various locales that include a theater, a battlefield, and the grounds of a convent. The production is gorgeously lit by Don Holder, particularly when light comes flooding in from stage right to stunning effect.
Leveaux’s nearly three-hour production flies by much more quickly than you’d think. The director expertly guides the action to highlight both the comic and tragic elements. But in the end, it’s still Kline that carries the show and whom you’ll remember long after the final curtain goes down.