‘Cyrano’ review: Peter Dinklage musical is a moody mess

In 2003, the rock band the National released an album called “Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers.” That would also make a good title for their new musical, “Cyrano,” which opened off-Broadway Thursday night. Because every song is mind-numbingly sad, and I hear 17th-century Paris wasn’t big on bathing.

The marquee names here aren’t the composers, the National’s Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner and Matt Berninger, however, but the lead actor: Peter Dinklage, the Emmy winner who played Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” for eight years. A talented performer full of gravitas, Dinklage could one day make a seismic Cyrano de Bergerac. But in this show, which is little more than black eyeliner set to music, he can’t overcome its lifelessness.

The story of a French poet and swordsman, who longs for the beautiful Roxanne (Jasmine Cephas Jones) but is held back by his jumbo schnoz, “Cyrano” has stayed mostly the same as Edmond Rostand’s original play, save for the odd, pointless additions, such as songs given to characters we don’t need to hear from. What’s vitally missing is the joie de vivre.

Writer/director Erica Schmidt, who’s married to Dinklage, has sapped the joy and sweeping romance out of the classic tale, opting instead for a weepy “Dear Etienne Hansen” vibe. It’s as if she ripped up every fun scene from the play and used it as prop snow in Act 2.

Cyrano’s famous speech in which he makes witty puns about his nose (“Is this the nose that launched 1,000 ships!”) as he sword-fights is gone. Now, we get a long torch song in which men moan vaguely about their loved ones from the battlefield.

It’s an obnoxiously over-choreographed number that treats a French war like an Irish pub. Here’s a lyric: “I have a father. He isn’t well. He thinks he may be going to hell.” After another endless ballad in which Roxanne sings, “I want more,” Cyrano takes a pause and says, “I think she wants more.” The script is roasting the score!

Cyrano, you might recall, is in a love square. Roxanne is being courted by the creepy De Guiche (Ritchie Coster), but really wants pretty-boy Christian (Blake Jenner). Christian est très stupide, however, so Cyrano writes his letters and scripts his flirtations believing himself to have no chance. The balcony scene in which Cyrano hides in the shadows speaking for Christian is the best in the show. But that’s like saying, “ ”To be or not to be’ was a highlight.”

Dinklage, despite his powerful presence, just can’t sing the part, which is trapped in the moody bass notes of a stalker. He also doesn’t have the usual prosthetic nose, although it’s mentioned. His co-star Jones (“Hamilton”) sounds expressive and soulful, but the emo-kid material fails to properly showcase her.

This is not a difficult play for modern audiences to grasp. “Cyrano” has been successfully adapted many times — as the romantic comedy “Roxanne,” starring Steve Martin; a recent teen flick called “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser”; and on “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons.” Unrequited love sells!

Well, it should, if the show remembers that being in love isn’t all agony.

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