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

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THIS WEEK

PACIFIC REP OPENS its new production of the hit musical Mamma Mia! (above) by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, based on the songs of their sensationally successful Swedish glam-band ABBA. Paper Wing opens A Christmas Carol in Monterey. DUELING SYMPHONIES: it usually happens once each season. DANIEL STEWART dances with the SANTA CRUZ SYMPHONY to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, John Adams’ The Chairman Dances and, in celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centenary, West Side Story symphonic dances. (Their Friday rehearsal at Santa Cruz Civic is open and free, starting at 7:30pm.) MAX BRAGADO DARMAN conducts the MONTEREY SYMPHONY plus 30 members of Youth Music Monterey’s Honors Orchestra in Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, and welcomes soloist David Jae-Weon Huh for Prokofiev’s brilliant Third Piano Concerto. For details and links to these and other live performances, click our CALENDAR

ABOUT ADAMS’ THE CHAIRMAN DANCES

SC SYMPHONY BACKGROUNDER plus an excerpt from the popular symphonic foxtrot. Click HERE

THORA BIRCH

FILM ACTOR for 31 of her 35 YEARS, walks/talks through her career. (She was in American Beauty as the daughter of the Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey characters.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUDREY LUNA CRACKS GLASS

HER STRATOSPHERIC A above high C is probably the highest a soprano has ever attained at the Met. (The freakish French coloratura Mado Robin, who went even higher, never appeared in that house.) The vehicle, Thomas Adès’ opera The Exterminating Angel—based on the surreal Luis Buñuel film—has left most critics bewildered or bored. And Adès seems to take fiendish delight in such pranks, witness the character Ariel from his operatic version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Click HERE

GEORGE MARTIN’S GENIUS

george-martin-musicWAS IN HIS ARRANGEMENTS AND ORCHESTRATIONS of Beatles hits. His own original music is not as memorable, though he did compose the score for the first of the Roger Moore 007 films, Live and Let Die; a suite from its score is included in this new CD release, along with the Pepperland Suite of music he wrote for the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Three American Sketches for violin and chamber orchestra sound as if he never left Britain. The Under Milk Wood overture, honoring the Dylan Thomas radio drama, is Welsh-flavored. His music (chorales) for The Mission, which was never used in that strange 1986 movie, deserves to be discovered and performed by regional and local choirs. The Berlin Music Ensemble (and its chorus in the last piece) perform with sensitivity and faith. Judge for yourself

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHY WE LIKE SAD MUSIC

A NEW THEORY is described by Tom Jacobs and illustrated by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Click HERE

LEAVIN’ ON YOUR MIND

PATSY CLINE from 1962. “Emotive yet distant and cool.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRESH REVIEWS

ALWAYS.., PATSY CLINE in Santa Cruz and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN in Salinas. Click HERE

YOUTH MUSIC MONTEREY COUNTY and 8-year-old soloist Nicholas Brady in Carmel. Click HERE 

NEXT WEEK

JOY! A HOLIDAY SHOW  by Tandy Beal & Company, with circus, dance & music, and Cirque du Soleil soloists, begins at Santa Cruz Civic. MOUNTAIN COMMUNITY THEATER launches THE ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS SHOW.

A WEEK LATER

HIDDEN VALLEY STRING ORCHESTRA to play Debussy, Schoenberg, Ponce. I CANTORI DI CARMEL introduces its new Conductor Tom Lehmkuhl. SMUIN’S ‘THE CHRISTMAS BALLET’ comes to Carmel.

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

Youth Music Monterey, 11-12-17

By Scott MacClelland

THREE TIMES EACH CONCERT SEASON Youth Music Monterey County’s orchestras—Junior Youth and Honors—fill Sunset Center to capacity with audiences ravenous to hear young musicians conducted by their acclaimed music director Farkhad Khudyev. How can it be that a youth orchestra—the one continually evolving into the other—attracts such an enthusiastic following?

Some of the explanation must descend from YMMC having survived some serious, even life-threatening challenges, both internal and external, in its now distant past. Under the steady-handed leadership of board chair Dorothy Micheletti, the independent non-profit organization, founded in the early 1990s by the late visionary Ruth Fenton, itself evolved from a predecessor called Youth Orchestra of the Monterey Peninsula, founded in the early ‘80s, whose original music director was Stewart Robertson, a Scot who in the intervening years made for himself a major international career.

Each new YMMC success is very consciously built on what came before. So when Khudyev lifted his baton last Sunday afternoon, the audience, whether or not aware of that history, was already prepared by the orgaNicholas-Brady_edited-2nization’s reputation for excellence.

But that was not all. The concert also featured Nicholas Brady, a locally-raised child prodigy, now eight years of age, who began his public career four years ago, including appearances with Khudyev and YMMC. For this concert, Master Brady performed the three-movement violin concerto in C by Dmitri Kabalevsky, a blustering 20-minute display piece that featured a flamboyant solo cadenza in its last movement. Dialed-in to the considerable demands of the piece, the boy paid little attention to the audience, but at crucial points made eye contact with the conductor. (Brady is now a student at Temple University.)

The 2016-17 season of YMMC’s orchestras set a high-water market. The virtually professional Honors Orchestra delivered performances that made its audiences giddy with love for orchestral music. Yet its ranks were decimated* by the graduation of so many strong players in both ensembles, with an elite cadre of seniors now gone on to university and conservatory studies. As a result, the opening of this new season was, for Khudyev, something of a step back and a restart. (One key loss was that of the Honors Orchestra’s oboe player, with no replacement on the horizon. In the situation, YMMC alumna Monica Mendoza, an exceptionally musical and animated flutist, who moved through both orchestras, volunteered to learn oboe and suddenly appeared as the Honors Orchestra principal. Now 20, she is a student at Hartnell College.)

The orchestras in this concert were, relatively, a bit scratchy as new members joined the Junior Youth and some of its members faced tough new challenges in having moved up to the Honors Orchestra. The JY group proceeded through a short program that grew tougher as it unfolded, from Lev Knipper’s Meadowlands, a polka by Kabalevsky, the harder-still Dance of the Rose Maidens from Khachaturian’s Gayane ballet, and a huge leap up to the final movement from Sibelius’ Second Symphony. In case they had any doubts, these youngsters now know what’s ahead of them.

Young Brady’s performance of the concerto brought the audience to its feet, as came as a surprise to no one. Then followed the Honors Orchestra’s first performance of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, a favorite of Khudyev. (I say ‘first performance’ because many members will join the Monterey Symphony and Max Bragado Darman next weekend for their two performances of the same work.)

As the irresistible score opened, with its “cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside,” the first solo emerged from—you guessed it—the oboe, an instrument notoriously difficult to conquer. And there was Mendoza, exposed and non-hesitant, with barely six months to gain mastery. Like Bragado, Khudyev understands the art of conducting and the interpretive demands that go with it. So he pushed and pulled his young orchestra even at the risk of taking them out on a limb. They soon found that arriving in the countryside is no walk in the park.

Yet on balance, they rose to the challenge and probably discovered skills they might not previously have known they had. In the long first and second movements Khudyev demanded they flex and extend the tempi elastically according to his vision, as any professional would expect to do. This effect is even more pronounced in the last three movements, which are played without pauses, the third and fifth framing the big thunderstorm scene.

At the end of the day, the sun came out in all its glory with the audience buzzing like a swarm of happy bees.

*reduced by ten percent