‘Cyrano’ delightfully twists story with musical flourishes

Peter Dinklage stars in this uneven but still enjoyable quasi-musical

Brad Keefe

Tastes are subjective, and people change, but I think it’s also important to admit when you were wrong.

I admit I was wrong about movie musicals.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved more stage-y movie musicals, like the 2002 adaptation of “Chicago.” And I adored “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”

In a more serious setting, though, the idea of characters bursting into song always took me out of any suspended reality. It just wasn’t my thing.

But a good friend who is also somewhat of a musical theater evangelist has let me tag along to a few CAPA shows, and seeing these on stage has given me a new perspective and a new appreciation. I’m starting to finally get it.

While it didn’t quite crack my top 10 last year, I found Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake to be an utter delight, and now I’m testing out that newfound love on this week’s release of “Cyrano.”

Adapted from Edmond Rostand’s 19th-century play, "Cyrano de Bergerac," this version twists the original story of a man with an unusually large nose and instead makes Cyrano a man of small stature (Peter Dinklage).

This Cyrano is brave in battle and bolder than some versions, a master of words with a knack for dramatic flourishes. He secretly pines for his childhood friend, Roxanne (Haley Bennett), but fears she could never love him back due to his size.

Roxanne is being courted by a creepy duke (Ben Mendelsohn), but she’s smitten by one of Cyrano’s military recruits, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who also falls for Roxanne but lacks Cyrano’s way with words, so he asks him to pen love letters for him, in which Cyrano obviously pulls from his own passion for her.

And did I mention there are songs?

Director Joe Wright is working from a script written by Erica Schmidt, who is married to Dinklage. It was originally produced as an off-Broadway stage performance, but Wright brings some of the visual flair of past work, like his “Pride & Prejudice” adaptation.

It’s also not a traditional musical with sweeping, catchy numbers by any means, but the use of song for inner dialogue is strikingly effective — at least with my new appreciation of the form.

The score is composed by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National with lyrics by bandmate Matt Berninger and his wife, Carin Besser. These seasoned musicians use the songs more as flourishes rather than vehicles to drive the story.

It also adds to what is a showcase for the remarkably talented Dinklage, who’s obviously a multiple Emmy winner for “Game of Thrones.” (And if you’ve never seen his breakout performance in “The Station Agent,” you should correct that.)

It’s also a fine turn from Bennett, who’s long been a star in search of a breakout role (and “Hillbilly Elegy” wasn’t it), and a showcase of Harrison Jr. (who notably played Fred Hampton in “The Trial of the Chicago 7”).

While Wright has a lot of talent on display and makes some bold choices that pay off, the biggest knock on this “Cyrano” is that it can be uneven in tone — light and airy in places, full tragedy in others. And the pieces don’t always jell.

It’s still a fine time, if not quite a true musical (and not quite the Oscar contender it could have been). Consider it a gateway to musical theater.


Now playing in theaters

3 stars out of 5