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STAGE REVIEWS : Despite a Long Breather, ‘Cyrano’ Still Not on the Nose : Musical has some nice moments, but nearly 2 decades after Broadway premiere, its redundancy and awkwardness persist.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Soon after its Broadway premiere in 1973, the major New York critics mildly spanked “Cyrano,” the seldom produced since musical adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s admired play, for being derivative of the far better “Man of La Mancha.”

At least one uncharitable reviewer went on to punish the show for unnecessarily adding a score to the already lyrical, singsong poetry of Rostand’s drama. It earned some plaudits as well (Christopher Plummer was well-liked, eventually winning a Tony for his starring performance) but the pans stood out, and the show closed after only six weeks.

Although almost two decades old, the criticisms remain apt, and no matter how eager the Newport Theatre Arts Center’s tries to be in its revival of this show, it can’t escape those conclusions.

“Cyrano,” renamed “Cyrano, the Musical” for its West Coast premiere in Newport Beach, remains an oddity . . . and not an especially good musical. To be sure, there have been worse to settle on stages from Broadway to the tiniest community theater, but this Anthony Burgess (book and lyrics) and Michael J. Lewis (score) collaboration fails primarily because it adds little to Rostand’s classic other than curiosity value.

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“Man of La Mancha” continues to be a good benchmark. Even though it tended to trivialize, in some ways, the import of “Don Quixote,” Cervantes’ treasured novel, it raised itself up through a remarkable score.

“Cyrano, the Musical” does have a handful of tuneful moments, thanks to Lewis, who now writes scores for television and commercials, but it doesn’t approach “Man of La Mancha’s” stature. The songs often feel intrusive, disabling the carefully romantic pace of Cyrano’s story.

Some credit should be given to director Kent Johnson for trying to streamline the original Palace Theater production so it would fit comfortably in the small Newport space. As he said in an earlier interview, this is more of a “play with musical accompaniment,” then a full-fledged musical. Nevertheless, the sense of redundancy, and even awkwardness, persists.

There’s another pitfall that Johnson couldn’t do anything about: the heroic breadth of the musical, its most obvious charm, is weakened by the theater’s size.

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This is clearly the sort of show that could use some “Les Miserables” magnitude, especially in the second act, when Cyrano and his band of soldiers face death on the battlefield.

As with much of the production, the action and drama seemed hemmed in--musicals often face that dilemma on small stages, and it’s especially obvious here.

John Huntington as Cyrano tries mightily to carry the day, using his powerful baritone to dominate just about every scene. But his is the type of oversized performance that would work better in a more roomy environment.

As Roxanna, Deirdre Donahue fares better, offering a subdued interpretation more fitting the space. It’s more picturesque than complex, but pleasurable nonetheless. Doug Scholl’s Christian, the swain who woos Roxanna through the beauty of Cyrano’s words, is noble but a bit blank.

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‘Cyrano, the Musical’

A Newport Theatre Arts Center production of the Anthony Burgess (book and lyrics) and Michael J. Lewis (score) musical. Directed by Kent Johnson. With Leonard Anthony, Deirdre Donahue, Randy Fine, Jayme Fowler, Deborah Gillette, Dan Gonzalez, John Huntington, Mike Kilgore, Marti Klein, Glenn Koppell, Tommy Lewis, Ken Meyers, Johnny Moreno, Michelle Moritz, Charles Neil, Candace Roberts, Doug Scholl, Lynn Tavernetti and Nancy Zelonka. Musical direction by Mitch Hanlon. Choreography by Irene Hutton. Sets by Rand Hudson and Todd Faux. Lighting by Larry Davis. Costumes by Elizabeth Matos. Plays Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through Oct. 6 at 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach. Tickets: $13. (714) 631-0288.


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