Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

 

TKAM

THIS WEEK

ENSEMBLE MONTEREY’S ‘THREE’S COMPANY’ delivers regional premieres in Carmel and Santa Cruz. ART, the LISTENING PLACE READERS’ THEATER’S award-winning comedy asks ‘is it art or is it a joke?’ Students at Santa Catalina School in Monterey are staging Christopher Sergel’s adaptation of HARPER LEE’S TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (above.) VIOLINIST LUCIA LUQUE and pianist Mauro Bertoli perform in Santa Cruz. For more live events click our CALENDAR and/or the display ads, left.

MUSIC AUDITIONS ANNOUNCED

THE 39TH ANNUAL MUSIC TEACHERS ASSN. piano auditions will be held April 9 at the Music Recital Hall at CSU Monterey Bay. The competition is open all young Monterey County piano students in several age divisions. Deadline for applications is March 26. Contact Lyn Bronson at 625-0797, or by email at lbronson@bronsonpianostudio.com for application forms and additional information.

THE CARMEL BACH FESTIVAL has announced a Young Artists Competition during its 2018th season. It will seek young musicians, ages six to 18 years, from the Central Coast Section (CCS) of the California Music Education Assn. (CCS covers Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz Counties.) Competitors will be selected from auditions to be held in mid-March at Pacific Grove Middle School, and will be invited to perform in a Young Artists Showcase Concert on July 21 at the Sunset Center theater.

Chosen to oversee the competition is award-winning local music edPriestucator Barbara Priest (right), founder/director of the Pacific Grove Pops Orchestra, director of instrumental music at Pacific Grove Middle School and a former president of CCS. She has hosted numerous regional student music events and festivals at the PG Performing Arts Center. “The Carmel Bach Festival is providing a spectacular opportunity for local student musicians to perform on an international stage and put dedicated practice to live performance,” said Priest. “I am thrilled to connect talented young soloists and ensembles with the historic Carmel Bach Festival. Young musicians inspire all of us and the Young Artists Competition is the best motivation for musicians of any age to keep practicing. The Young Artists Competition is participation in the future of live classical music.”

CBF MANAGING DIRECTOR Steve Friedlander told me that he and members of his staff had gone over festival activities of the last few years in search of youth-oriented projects in order to bring back some of them and “to focus on young artists who would connect us to the community and to give students some inspirational opportunities.” A community advisory board—“a group of six to 12 music educators, adult amateurs, composers and local musicians”—has been assembled “to raise awareness and develop community engagement,” he said. “I met Barbara because of her participation in that group and was impressed by her professional skills, style, and track record. She gets things done.”

PRIEST grew up in Monterey, graduated from Monterey High School and took degrees in music and education at Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton. She plays a variety of mostly wind instruments and maintains strong connections with teachers, students and families in the four CCS counties. She began her professional career at PG Middle School 13 and half years ago.

Priest told me potential participants in the Showcase Concert will audition live March 17 and 18, and be given immediate feedback by the judges, verbally and in writing. “The final decision will be made by Bach Festival staff.” She also explained that this program “existed before but for some reason it went away.” She said its emphasis will be on the local community. She sees her role as liaison between teachers within the CCS and area music education programs like Youth Music Monterey and Youth Orchestra Salinas, to name just two. She said her discussions with festival staff began last spring and she was offered the position in October. She enthuses, “I’m jumping in now!”

BACH BEATS OUT BRAHMS AND TCHAIKOVSKY

2017 CLASSICAL STATISTICS EYEOPENER  Complaints that Bach doesn’t sell ring false; Mozart, Beethoven and Bach beat out Brahms, Schubert and Tchaikovsky. After them, Haydn got the most performances. Baroque is a non-starter in Austria but huge in Germany. Regardless, and as with most musical arts, the question is not ‘what’ but ‘how.’ Click HERE

END OF THE ROAD FOR SIMON BOLIVAR ORCHESTRA?

CONDUCTOR GUSTAVO DUDAMEL is now persona non grata with Maduro’s Venezuelan regime and the orchestra has bled so many musicians that its tour dates are drying up. Click HERE

elbphilharmonie-hamburgTHE MANY IMPACTS OF NEW CONCERT HALLS

ELBPHILHARMONIE in Hamburg (right), which opened in January 2017, is running a revenue surplus instead of a projected deficit. OTHER MAJOR NEW VENUES, below, are also changing the game in Paris, Reykjavik and Wrocław.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“CONDUCTING IS A VERY EASY JOB”

FAMED HUNGARIAN MAESTRO Ivan Fischer doesn’t understand why some people think it is so stressful. Click HERE

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

ELMER BERNSTEIN’S unforgettable main theme for Robert Mulligan’s 1962 Film based on Harper Lee’s masterpiece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRESH REVIEWS

CLAREMONT TRIO in Carmel. SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER PLAYERS in Aptos. Click HERE

PAPER WING opens Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike in Monterey. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

SANTA CRUZ SYMPHONY returns Metropolitan star soprano Michelle Bradley for Richard Strauss’ unforgettable Four Last Songs. JEWEL THEATRE opens Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky.  

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

Claremont Trio

12-2

By Scott MacClelland

CLAREMONT TRIO cellist Julia Bruskin told the Saturday audience at Carmel’s Sunset Center that she and her colleagues were delighted to return to the stage here after a nine-year absence. She also explained that her twin sister Emily was on maternity leave HarumiRhodes2015.7and, for the Claremont’s new tour, was replaced by Harumi Rhodes (right), a highly-accomplished chamber musician—a founding member of the award-winning Trio Cavatina—and solo violinist in her own right.

Bruskin’s remarks followed the opening Four Folks Songs of 2012, a Claremont commission, by American composer Gabriela Lena Frank. The 15-minute charmer, in four discrete parts, celebrates equally Frank’s Peruvian-born mother and their mutual cultural heritage that includes the influence on that equatorial South American nation of colonial Spain. Most enchanting were the pizzicato in the clever “Children’s Dance” and the guitar-like strumming in the “Serenata.”

The highlight of the program was Bedřich Smetana’s 28-minute Piano Trio in A Minor, a work of anguish by the young composer written shortly after the death of his four-year-old daughter. The big opening movement is fraught, its forceful development attaining near-hysterical angst. Pianist Andrea Lam led the charge in a deeply-felt reading.

These fine musicians need to step back and rethink Beethoven’s popular “Archduke” Trio, particularly, but not exclusively, the first movement which requires the leadership of a singular vision. For Beethoven’s chamber music with piano that vision starts—and usually remains—at the composer’s instrument. With all three artists intently reading their parts, mismatched phrasing prevented the opening movement from achieving a crisp unanimity of line that can lift the piece to grandeur. To be blunt, these three excellent musicians were not listening to each other.

Meanwhile, among moments that stood out were that dark chromatic wandering that gives rise to inexplicable fugal bits in the scherzo and the broadly arching Andante cantabile with its ennobled theme and variations. Then came the inane final rondo which, thankfully, the composer chose to foreshorten.

This was the first public outing by Claremont of a seven-concert tour program. I’d bet that by Sunday’s performance in Mill Valley their “Archduke” will have come into sharp focus.