If you have Pygmalion tickets, see if you can swap them. The most magnetizing performance from a star on Broadway this season will come not from Claire Danes but from Kevin Kline as Cyrano de Bergerac. In this limited engagement production, Kline’s famous face disappears, in its place a center-stage glimpse of the rare magic at an actor’s fingertips. At once arrogant and pitiful, brilliant and foolish, his lovelorn soldier-poet is so appealing that, even with his huge nose, one can’t imagine why any woman wouldn’t fall for him.
The 1897 play evidently brought the word “panache” into the English language, and we’re reminded here that it doesn’t just mean a flair for white feathers. For Cyrano, it is an unwavering integrity, a clinging to an iconoclasm that can cost a man dearly, and Kline’s panache enchants without bluster. It is so potent that certain others appear unversed in comparison. With halting rhythms and weirdly unfeminine tones, Jennifer Garner’s Roxane puts a strain on the play’s famous love triangle. There’s so much allure in this production, however, that it’s worth the few moments of discord. Director David Leveaux’s moonlit stage is one of half reality, half fantasy, joining our most romantic daydreams with the steel-cold world of pre-Enlightenment France. The translation is provided by Anthony Burgess, a man no stranger to panache.
Kline’s Cyrano holds the audience by the gills, breathless, and in the play’s last moments transforms us all into unrequited lovers mourning what might have been. So moving is his final speech that, during the performance, an old lady in the balcony shouted “Bravo!” in the silent seconds that preceded the curtain. Though I do hope she swaps her opera glasses for a few classes on theater etiquette, I cannot help but echo her enthusiasm.