Film Length: 141 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 (enhanced for 16:9)
Audio: English DD 5.1; English DD 2.0
Theatrical Release Date: n/a
DVD Release Date: January 6, 2009
Like many movie stars, Kevin Kline started in the theater. Unlike many film actors, Kline
regularly returns to the stage to take on classic roles. In 2007 he performed to sold-out audiences
on Broadway in a role he was born to play: the courageous and witty swordsman with the noble
soul and the ridiculously large nose in Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. It didn't hurt the
box office that Roxane, the object of Cyrano's hopeless love, was played by Jennifer Garner (of
Alias, Daredevil and Juno), making her Broadway debut in daunting company, or that Christian,
Cyrano's friend and rival for Roxane's affection, was played by Daniel Sunjata, a handsome
Broadway veteran who'd become familiar as the womanizing firefighter Franco on TV's Rescue
Image Entertainment, in conjunction with PBS/Channel 13, has released a taped performance of
Kline's Cyrano on DVD. The release appears to have been timed to coincide with a nationwide
PBS broadcast of the recording during the week of January 5, 2009.
Does anyone not know the plot of Cyrano de Bergerac? Steve Martin borrowed liberally from it
for his film Roxanne, but Martin set the story in a contemporary American resort town. And in
true Hollywood fashion, he changed the ending.
It is 1640, the era of the Three Musketeers. Cyrano, a soldier in the French Royal Guards, is a
poet, wit, philosopher, swordsman and a sworn enemy to all that is hollow and pretentious. He is
also cursed with a grotesquely enormous nose, as a result of which he believes himself unfit to
declare his love for his beautiful cousin, Roxane. In the opening scene, Cyrano successfully
fights a duel with a courtier attached to the villainous Comte de Guiche (Chris Sarandon), while
simultaneously composing and reciting a poem celebrating his victory. When Roxane, who has
witnessed the event, asks to see him, Cyrano dares to hope he has won her favor, but he is
crushed to learn that her affections have attached to a soldier named Christian who is newly
assigned to Cyrano's regiment. Roxane begs Cyrano to look out for Christian and congratulates
him on his bravery in the duel. He agrees, saying: "I've done better since line almost verbatim for Roxanne).
After a rocky beginning, Cyrano and Christian become friends. So devoted is Cyrano to
Roxane's happiness that he does everything he can to facilitate her love affair with Christian.
Upon discovering that Christian is tongue-tied with women, Cyrano coaches him. Soon he is
ghost-writing Christian's letters to Roxane, and eventually he is standing below her balcony,
pouring out his heart in his own voice but in Christian's name. He even runs interference with de
Guiche, who has his own designs on Roxane, so that she and Christian can be secretly married.
Upon discovering the marriage, an enraged de Guiche immediatedly dispatches Cyrano's and
Christian's regiment to fight the Spanish, where Christian is killed in battle. A heartbroken
Roxane withdraws into seclusion at a convent, where, once a week for fifteen years, Cyrano
visits her dutifully. In the play's final act, Roxane lets him read the last letter that Christian wrote
her from the front - a letter actually written by Cyrano. Upon hearing Cyrano read the letter
aloud, Roxane finally realizes with whom she has been in love all these years. Unfortunately for
both of them, it is too late. Cyrano has made many enemies over the years, and one of them has
arranged for him to be ambushed on his way to the convent. He dies of his injuries, but knowing
that Roxane loves him at last and that he has lived his life proudly without compromise.
Even though it ends in the hero's death, Cyrano is a comedy. Everything about it is as
exaggerated and ridiculous as the hero's nasal protruberance, whether it's Christian's absurd
shyness, or the excessive pronouncements of love that Roxane demands from her suitor, or the
braggadocio of Cyrano and his fellow guardsmen. The lead requires an actor who can be verbally
agile and physically graceful, a ballet dancer and a buffoon all at once. Who better than the
performer who won his Oscar for playing Otto in A Fish Called Wanda? Kevin Kline is so
obviously suited to the part, and so obviously having fun with it, that the audience warms to him
immediately upon his appearance, and the good will never lets up. (I can attest to this from
personal experience as an audience member.)
The rest of the cast is equal to the challenge. Garner may not have the stage experience of her
costars, but she brings an energy to Roxane that saves the role from the shallowness that is an
inescapable element of the character. You actually believe that this Roxane would have the grit to
sneak her carriage through the Spanish lines to visit Cyrano and Christian in the fourth act - an
absurd but necessary plot device. And Daniel Sunjata is a wily enough stage veteran to know
that, while Kline is the star, Christian is the handsome one, and he takes every opportunity to use
the cliche of "pretty but dumb" to get a laugh. (The exchange between Christian and Cyrano
below Roxanne's balcony about whether Christian should kiss her is a wonderful bit of
Leaving aside Steve Martin's adaptation, which is a gem unto itself, I've seen Cyrano done by
José Ferrer and Gérard Depardieu on film and by Frank Langella on stage (as well as various
amateur productions). The presentation recorded on this DVD is the best I've seen, and certainly
the best version for introducing a contemporary audience to this classic drama.
The usual criteria for rating a DVD's video don't apply here, because there's no film source that
must be accurately reproduced. The advent of superior digital video technology has substantially
improved the ability to capture a live performance from numerous angles and edit together a
version that closely matches the rhythm of a TV show or film (long shot, close-up, reaction shot,
etc.). The advantage for the DVD viewer is the opportunity to observe performance details that
most audience members never saw (yes, the actors shed real tears every night). The disadvantage
is that the performances and the staging were not designed to be seen that way, and when framed
in such a fashion, they may appear somewhat out of context and artificial. A veteran theatergoer
can adjust, but I'm not sure how this will play for someone used to film or TV performances.
If I were directing the taping of a stage performance, I would encourage the photographers to find
medium shots wherever possible, and then I would insist that the editor make as few cuts as
possible. One of the privileges of sitting in a theater audience is that you can look wherever you
choose. On a recorded presentation, the director, photographer and editor have made the choice
for you, and the less you're reminded of that, the better.
The above concern aside, I found nothing to criticize in the quality of the video on this DVD.
I listened to the DD 5.1 track. The audio for the performance is spread across the front three
speakers, while the surround channels are limited to ambient noise from the audience (i.e.,
laughter and applause). While this might appear to be the result of careful placement of
microphones in the theater, it's an illusion. For a long time now, actors on Broadway have been
discreetly miked for the sake of both the back rows and assisted listening devices. To an
experienced ear, it's obvious that at least the dialogue for this soundtrack has been taken from
those microphones and mixed in a recording studio. The mix is good and ensures that the
dialogue remains intelligible.
One of the many benefits of DVD is the ability to make theatrical events available to a wider
audience than ever before in a format with sufficient resolution to capture some of the magic.
While no recorded medium could ever supply the energy and spontaneity of a live performance, a
well-produced DVD like Cyrano de Bergerac lets a home viewer experience the craftsmanship
of theater veterans such as Kline and Sunjata and share the excitement as a talented performer
like Garner succeeds at something new. If you have a soft spot for the play, or just for old-fashioned
swashbuckling romance and comedy, you will not find a better Cyrano.
Equipment used for this review:
Denon 955 DVD player
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
Velodyne HGS-10 sub