BWW Interview: 6 Questions & a Plug with C.'s Bradley Greenwald

Kristen Hirsch MontagBroadway World Minneapolis

April 15, 2016

Bradley Greenwald is a fixture of Twin Cities stages; a performer that regularly draws deserved praise for his performances in opera, theater, music-theater, concert and recital repertoire with the Jungle Theater, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the Children's Theatre Company, 10,000 Things, Nautilus Music-Theater, Minnesota Dance Theatre, James Sewell Ballet, VocalEssence, Frank Theatre, the Illusion Theater, the Guthrie Theater, A Prairie Home Companion and Skylark Opera. (Whew!) Greenwald also is the recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in music, the McKnight Fellowship for Theater Artists, and a 2006 Ivey Award.

Greenwald is not known well as a playwright but that's about to change. Previously, he adapted Madeleine L'Engle's novel "A Wrinkle in Time" into a libretto for Libby Larsen's opera. Now, writing the book and lyrics for C. at Theater Latté Da, and receiving rave reviews for the production, he may just have a dual career on his hands. Latté Da just extended the run by a week due to popular demand. The show is original and thoroughly enjoyable, and Greenwald's Cyrano is amazing. Get your tickets now (seriously, don't wait to do it), then come back and read this edition of 6 Questions and a Plug to learn more about the play and the playwright.

C. is a brand new musical adaptation of Edmond Rostand's classic play, Cyrano de Bergerac, so the story is probably quite familiar to most readers, but can you tell us a little about the premise and how similar or different your adaptation is to the original?

The adaptation follows the love triangle of Rostand's play, as well as its basic structure-- Cyrano-who-loves-Roxane-who-loves-Christian-who-needs-Cyrano-to-prove-his-love-to-Roxane-- and includes, of course, his brilliant Balcony Scene. What struck me in Rostand's play was Cyrano's love of language and music and how vital both are to his spiritual and physical existence, as important as food, water and shelter. So I chose poetry and music as the fuel for the plot, over any stylized 17th-century settings or plot machinations. What bowled me over in the Rostand play, reading my direct word-for-word translation instead of the glittering, giddy, sublimely poetic variations of Burgess and Hooker, was the profound love and humanity in these characters. The content of translated adaptations, by nature, must go off on whimsical tangents to satisfy meter and rhyme. I decided I would not write in verse, except when the characters needed to speak in verse. I wanted Rostand's themes of love and language and the ineffable to speak without any camouflaging veneer of a translator's own poetic athleticism.

What was the inspiration or driver for you to adapt the play as a new musical, and is the music all original?

I took on Cyrano as an exercise after writing the libretto for Libby Larsen's opera A Wrinkle in Time. I loved adapting the novel, and wanted to do more. When I asked Peter Rothstein for a subject he suggested Cyrano, because he didn't feel any of the music adaptations of the play had enjoyed any success. When I talked through my take on how I saw music intertwined with the story, he encouraged me to continue. After a year, the exercise turned into a full script for the first season of Theater Latté Da's NEXT in 2013. And yes, all of Robert Elhai's score is original even though some of it may sound like folk songs that have been around forever. That's how brilliant he is.

What is your background in playwriting and writing lyrics for musicals? Did you train in these disciplines as well as acting and singing?

I have no official training in playwriting other than my own experiences with those who have. New work has always been a huge part of my career, so I have watched playwrights and composers struggle and succeed and revise and collaborate, learning from them by singing or speaking what they create, and taking note of when they choose one word over another and why. I wrote a libretto with Steven Epp for Jeune Lune's The Magic Flute, but it was after adapting A Wrinkle In Time for Libby Larsen's opera that I realized I loved writing, and that perhaps my life in different theatrical disciplines might be useful in the realization of a story through music.

You are also starring as Cyrano in the show; has it been challenging to play both roles (of playwright and lead actor)?

I was wary of playing Cyrano while also serving as writer. Peter talked me into it. In rehearsals (and even still in performance) I had to learn to stop listening as the writer and listen as the character, and it was difficult to get the knack of that. But life is all about the acquisition of skills, so I'll chalk it up as one more lesson learned.

This production is the second full production of a new musical for the NEXT 20/20 program by Theater Latté Da; when you first started during the NEXT series, did you always have a full production in your sights for C.? How much has it changed since that first outing?

We had always imagined a full production in theory, of course, because we wanted to make sure we were telling the story in a way that could be realized physically, not just intellectually. The play retained the same philosophy as the draft we performed three years ago, but the script is vastly different. Then it was basically a translated and distilled Rostand script with some Bradley thrown in here and there. Now the script is my own, with Rostand looking over my shoulder.

What are your hopes for this production and do you hope that it will go on beyond you to be produced by other companies?

I hope someone else will be moved enough by the piece to produce it. I would love to see other imaginations take it on, and put their own poetic imprint upon it. It's big and poetic, and it's about beauty. We need to be reminded to look for beauty in the world, and in ourselves. C. reminds us.

What is next for you personally, on stage or in other ways in your career?

The next big project is '66: Talkin 'Bout My Generation, a concert/travelogue/theatrical fantasia at Open Eye Figure Theater. Dan Chouinard, Prudence Johnson, Diana Grasselli and I have done two other theatrical concerts there over the years (on Brecht and Weill, and Jacques Brel). This time we look back to the life and music of 1966, 50 years later. It will be a fantastical contemporary "radio broadcast" with the four of us performing, along with instrumentalists Gary Raynor and Dean McGraw.

More information:


Book & Lyrics by Bradley Greenwald

Music by Robert Elhai

Directed by Peter Rothstein

Music Direction by Jason Hansen Adapted from the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

Featuring Bradley Greenwald, David Darrow, Kendall Anne Thompson, Jim Ramlet and Max Wojtonowicz

Plays now through May 1, 2016 at Ritz Theater (345 13th Avenue NE Minneapolis).

Single tickets are on sale now at or 612-339-3003.

Photo: Kendall Anne Thompson, David Darrow and Bradley Greenwald.

Theater Latté Da presents C. March 30 - April 24, 2016. Ritz Theater. Photo by Dan Norman.

A new spin on 'Cyrano,' and four other arts events not to miss this weekend

MPR News StaffMPR News

April 14, 2016

Bradley Greenwald's nose for musical theater

Maybe you've seen "Cyrano de Bergerac" before, or one of the many adaptations of the story about the swashbuckling poet and his enormous nose. But if you haven't seen "C.," which is midway through its premiere run at Theater Latte Da, you're missing the proboscis with the most-est.

Cyrano has a beautiful soul but a face he believes to be ugly. He is skilled at wordplay and swordplay and always ready to use them both, such as when he is taunted about the size of his schnoz. He's been in love with Roxane since childhood, but he dares not hope she can see past his nose. Instead, he agrees to help pretty-boy Christian pursue her.

This musical reinvention is remarkable. Bradley Greenwald, who wrote the book and the lyrics to Robert Elhai's music, performs the title role with sensitivity and skill, not to mention a voice that could knock birds out of their trees. He fuses music and story without visible effort.

"We are on this earth," Greenwald's Cyrano says, "to articulate the ineffable." And boy, does he ever.

Toward the end of the first act, when Roxane has stiff-armed the earnest but inarticulate Christian, Cyrano progresses from stage whispers to spoken dialogue to song — soaring, achingly expressive song. As Cyrano improvises the text that will win Roxane's heart for Christian, we see the personification of selfless love — coupled with the crippling effects of a lousy self-image. "My life is complete," he says at the foot of Roxane's balcony, though his life is, at best, half complete.

It's heartbreaking. Go ahead and cry. Be thankful that, with your normal-sized nose, you won't need a handkerchief the size of a bedsheet. At the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis, with a run that's just been extended through May 1.

Reason to go: Bradley Greenwald.

Review – C – Theater Latte Da

Rift MagazineBev Wolfe

April 8, 2016

Theater Latté Da’s C:  A Promising New Play-With-Music

This past weekend, Theater Latté Da presented the world premiere of C, a play-with-music, at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis.  The show was developed for Theater Latté Da by both Bradley Greenwald, who wrote the book and lyrics, and Robert Elhai who composed the music.  It is part of Theater Latté Da’s NEXT 20/20 initiative to develop and bring to production 20 new musicals or plays-with-music within the next 5 years.  This production, under the sharp direction of Peter Rothstein, is a promising start to the goal of contributing to the future of musical theater.

Greenwald’s play is an adaption of Edmond Rostand’s1896 play Cyrano De Bergerac.  Rostand’s play is loosely based upon the life of a poet and dualist who lived during the first half of the 17th Century.

The first professional production of a play that I saw as a teenager was the Guthrie’s world premiere of Anthony Burgess’ translation and adaption of Rostand’s play.  The theatricalism of that production had a lasting influence upon my life-long interest in theatre.  This current adaption, with the addition of music, makes a similar impact.

Cyrano is a poet, duelist, and member of a military regiment in France.  He is renowned for his swordplay and his nose: an extremely large schnoz which he believes renders it impossible for his beloved Roxane to reciprocate his feelings.  Roxane is a beautiful and intelligent heiress who is desired by a local married nobleman.

When Roxane requests a secret meeting with Cyrano, Cyrano hopes it is to confess her love for him.  In preparation, he writes an impassioned, poetic love letter and signs it “C.”  But his hopes are dashed when she confesses her love for a man named Christian who is joining Cyrano’s regiment.  Christian is so good looking that even Cyrano finds him to be beautiful.  When Cyrano learns that Christian also loves Roxane, he puts aside his feelings and allows his letter to be sent to Roxane on behalf of Christian.

We soon learn that Christian is a dolt when it comes to speech and poetry.  So Cyrano keeps writing beautiful, poetic letters to Roxane on Christian’s behalf and continues to sign them with a “C.”  This charade continues to the point where, in the balcony scene, Cyrano speaks and sings couplets and poetry to Roxane while hiding in the shadows so it appears that Christian is the speaker.

After a hasty marriage between Roxane and Christian, both men are sent to war where Cyrano continues the charade by sending daily letters to Roxane on Christian’s behalf and often without Christian’s knowledge.

Greenwald’s production seeks to translate the poetry of Rostand’s play into words set to music.  Initially, the songs seem to be more separate from the spoken word, but by the mid-way balcony scene climax, the spoken word and music often flow together interchangeably and sometimes soar.

The play-with-music term is an apt description because this is a production where you appreciate the music underlying the words rather than one where audiences will be humming show tunes after the show.

Greenwald’s portrayal of Cyrano gives great depth to this role of a man who is master of many things and, yet, is personally very insecure in matters of love.  David Darrow as Christian does a remarkable job playing a love struck young man who grows to resent the fact that Roxane appears more in love with Cyrano’s poetic soul than she is with him.

Kendall Anne Thompson does a superb job of playing Roxane as a strong and captivating woman making it understandable that her character is the object of the affections of many men.  Finally, Janet Hansen is both hilarious and memorable in the role of Sister Claire, Roxane’s companion and teacher.

Music director Jason Hansen takes Elhai’s music and makes it sail seamlessly in and out of scenes.  Scenic Designer Jim Smart creates a theatrical aura around his design of a 17th century French town with a multitude of glass jars with lighted candles flowing across the front of the stage.

C is a production that still requires some fine tuning in places, including the need to trim about 15 minutes off the show’s running time.  But Theater Latté Da should be commended for fostering the development of this original production.

Theatre Latte Da The Ritz Theater 345 13th Avenue NE Minneapolis, MN 55413 Box Office: (612)339-3003 March 30 – April 24, 2016

Theater Latte Da’s “C.” is a Charmer

Minneapolis/St. Paul MagazineTad Simons

April 4, 2016

Theater Latte Da is one of only a handful of arts organizations in the past 30 years that has made the leap from small, itinerant theater company on shoestring to established, mid-size theater with a modest budget—and soon, it hopes, a permanent home. TLD announced in March that it is raising funds to purchase the Ritz Theater in NE Minneapolis, which for years was home to the sassy, genre-defying dance troupe Ballet of the Dolls.

Last weekend, TLD opened its new musical, C., based on the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, and proved once again why the company deserves a permanent home—and why it has thrived while so many others haven’t. C. isn’t perfect by any means, but it does enough well to be entertaining throughout (a minor victory on its own), and it exhibits the kind of canny fearlessness that has characterized artistic director Peter Rothstein’s work from the beginning.

Adapted by Bradley Greenwald, with music by Robert Elhai, C. is a spirited re-telling of a familiar story, the tale of a famously silver-tongued swordsman with an ugly nose who is in love with his clever cousin, Roxane, but is afraid to tell her because of his hideous schnozz. Instead, he helps a handsome but tongue-tied young cadet (David Darrow) woo Roxane by telling the boy what to say. From there, the plan goes from bad to worse.

Greenwald’s adaptation follows the basic story faithfully enough, but it’s the small touches combined with the overall direction and a talented cast that raise C. up into the B+ range. Rothstein is a genius at giving well-known musicals a fresh coat of paint. In this case, however, he has transformed a well-known story into a musical, which is a set of artistic challenges all its own.

In most musicals, the numbers trot by one after the other, and the audience claps dutifully after each one. But that’s not how C. is structured. There are traditional songs, yes—folk songs, waltzes, shanties, and a heartfelt ballad or two—but much of the music is packaged in the form of spoken-word riffs and spontaneous-sounding improvisations. Indeed, the best thing about C. is how deftly it blends its theatrical and musical elements to create its own romantic texture.

Cyrano (played by Greenwald) is all about capturing what he calls “the poetry in the room,” by which he means the artistic possibilities of any given moment in life. During a scene when Cyrano is rhapsodizing about Roxane, spinning poetry out of thin air, a string quartet is practicing offstage, providing a quiet musical accompaniment for Cyrano’s words. The words and music don’t create a traditional song, but they do create a powerful dramatic moment that captures the very poetry in the room that Cyrano is talking about.

There are many such moments in C., but there’s also a nice balance of comedy as well, particularly in the antics of various idiosyncratic supporting characters, and from Greenwald himself, who is one of the Twin Cities’ most versatile actors. His Cyrano is alternately brash and vulnerable, cocky and unsure of himself. The one area that could be improved is his allegedly rapier wit. For a man whose tongue is a supposed to be as sharp as his sword, his words don’t slice and sting as much as they should. The playful banter between Cyrano and Roxane (played with grace and spunk by Kendall Anne Thompson) works much better, and between them there is a convincingly uneasy chemistry. Set designer Jim Smart adds to the romantic aura by framing the action with hundreds of lit candles along the foot of the stage, and setting the action in humble Parisian streetscape accented by a large tree and a full, luminous moon.

The Ritz only has 235 seats, which is only slightly larger than The Jungle Theater, and its charmingly rustic atmosphere is perfect fit for an arts organization like Theater Latte Da. If TLD does succeed on its bid to buy the Ritz, the northeast arts district will be that much richer.

C. continues at the Ritz Theater through April 24,

C. Review

Arthur DormanTalkin' Broadway

April 6, 2106

C., a new musical with book and lyrics by Bradley Greenwald and music by Robert Elhai, based on Edmond Rostand's classic play Cyrano de Bergerac soars to life in Theater Latté Da's world premiere production at the Ritz Theatre. C. is a product of Theater Latté Da's Next 20/20 initiative to nurture the creation of new musical theater work, and immediately proves the value of that effort, especially given a pitch-perfect cast led by Mr. Greenwald as Cyrano.

C. takes its title from the way the hero of the piece, Cyrano de Bergerac, signs love letters he writes on behalf of Christian, a cadet in his military unit to bright and beautiful Roxane, a woman they both love. Cyrano has deeply loved Roxanne since they were children together, but his physical ugliness—famously, his enormous nose—keeps him from declaring his feelings. Christian, who has only just met Roxanne, is taken by her physical beauty, as she is by his. However, along with physical beauty Roxanne requires of her beloved a beautiful heart, as expressed in poems and letters. Christian has not an ounce of wit for the expression of feelings. Cyrano, on the other hand, is as renowned for his word-play as for his swordplay. He agrees to help Christian woo Roxanne by composing beautiful phrased letters for Christian to deliver. Closing each missive with the letter C, Cyrano tells his protégé that it stands for Christian while, in truth, it is Cyrano's way of taking ownership for his own feelings.

Past efforts to make a musical of Cyrano de Bergerac have not fared well. In both 1973 and 1993 attempts failed with both critics and the box office on Broadway. Calvin Berger, a loose adaption that places the story in a high school setting, has had several regional productions (including last year's mounting by Minneapolis Musical Theatre), but has not been widely seen. What Greenwald and Elhai have done with C. is to create not a song and dance show, but a song and poetry show—and it works. This small but beautifully rendered musicalization successfully brings music to Cyrano's poetic voice.

Lest you think "song and poetry" means the show is a precious, erudite affair, I can assure you that it is full of heartfelt drama, swash-buckling action, and robust humor. On several occasions characters break out in song to express their feelings, but more often the music falls within the context of the play, using traveling minstrels to bring melody to the poetry that comes naturally to Cyrano, Roxanne and others—though not Christian. An out-of-context song in which he reveals his utter lack of eloquence makes clear how out of his league he is in this company, and is also highly entertaining as delivered by David Darrow in the manner of a music hall number. Robert Elhai has composed lovely melodies, mainly drawing on folks sounds of Cyrano's period.

Director Peter Rothstein continues to display mastery of musical theater, giving fluid movement to the many parts of the story, staging scenes with complete clarity, and—with the exception of Christian's song noted above—assuring that each musical piece begins and ends organically, never interrupting the narrative. The functional setting designed by Jim Smart has a collection of rustic 17th century facades, with a central area that can be draped off to create a stage for the opening performance-within-the play. A large tree in the center looms over the entire setting, giving a sense of a pastoral to the play, though the tree's meaning is not revealed until the final scene. Rich Hamson's costumes are elaborate as befitting the time frame, yet subdued in gold, beige, and white hues. The play is beautifully lit by Marcus Dillard to highlight mood shifts from raucous to romantic, and merry to melancholy.

Greenwald, as Cyrano, gives a wonderful, fully formed performance, making good use of his beautiful baritone, his eloquence in speech, comic flair, and commanding physical presence. A prosthetic nose that projects out comically—as Cyrano states, "preceding him wherever he goes by a quarter of an hour"—serves the purpose of bringing a disfigured quality to his otherwise handsome face. He has perhaps more of the poetry and less of the panache seen in some Cyranos, more nonchalance than bravado as he defeats all comers in swordplay (exquisitely choreographed by fight director Annie Enneking), but it all works in creating a character that is of whole cloth.

Kendall Anne Thompson is a lovely Roxanne, with a beautiful voice and robust energy. She projects a woman possessing intelligence and humor, ready to embrace life with confidence and vigor. Her embrace of a more sober wisdom in the closing scene is skillfully portrayed. David Darrow's Christian is handsome, but projects a boyish rather than rakish physicality, making him seem less of a threat than a partner to Cyrano in pursuit of Roxanne's love.

John Middleton as the nobleman with his own designs on Roxanne is the villain of the piece and comes across less odious than in other productions of Cyrano I have seen, in keeping with the tone of a story of human longing and folly, rather than of exaggerated types. Max Wojtanowicz is endearing as Papadeau, the baker with a poet's heart. The remainder of the cast all play their parts well and sing beautifully.

Could C. be improved? Greenwald's book takes liberties with anachronisms, such as Roxanne and Papadeau bringing food and comfort to Cyrano's company on a 17th century battlefield via automobile rather than horse-drawn wagon, and references to Insulin and Mrs. O'Leary of Chicago Fire fame. Each of these moments prompts audience laughter, but there is enough humor within the text and in the action of the play, that these feel pinned on at the expense of, rather than in service to, the beautifully wrought play.

Nonetheless, C. succeeds at making the romantic heart of Cyrano de Bergerac beat with more joy and stirs its well of regret with more longing. It is a gift to Twin Cities theatergoers, one that deserves an extended life beyond this maiden voyage.

C. continues through April 24, 2016, at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $35.00 - $45.00. For tickets call 612-339-3303 or go to theaterLatté

Book and Lyrics: Bradley Greenwald, adopted from the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand; Music: Elhai; Director: Peter Rothstein; Music Director: Jason Hansen; Dramaturg: Elissa Adams; Set Designer: Jim Smart; Costume Designer: Rich Hamson; Lighting Designer: Marcus Dillard; Sound Designer and Engineer: Sean Healey; Properties Master: Benjamin Olsen; Fight Director: Annie Enneking; Technical Director: Stein Rosburg; Production Manager: Dylan Wright; Stage Manager: Tiffany K. Orr; Assistant Stage Manager: Lisa M. Smith; Assistant Scenic Designer: Mika Ichikawa.

Cast: Bear Brummel (a chorus boy, a cadet, a priest), Sarah Burk (a Bohemian), Caleb Fritz Craig (a chorus boy, a cadet), David Darrow (Christian Beauregard), Bradley Greenwald (Cyrano de Bergerac), Jason Hansen (a Bohemian, a cadet), Janet Hanson (Sister Claire), Kim Kivens (Mrs. DeWight, Atchette, Sister Agnes), Grace Lowe (L'Allouette), John Middleton (Senator DeWight), Luke Pickman (a Bohemian, a cadet), James Ramlet (Orson Déjaloux), Matt Riehle (Bellrose, a cadet, a Bohemian), Kendall Anne Thompson (Roxanne), Evan Tyler Wilson (Uncle Monty, a cadet), Max Wojtanowicz (Papadeau).

Review: Cyrano truly sings in Latté Da's poetic new musical 'C.'

Graydon RoyceStar Tribune

April 4, 2016


Starting with the very best ingredients does not guarantee the success of a theatrical adaptation. Consider the checkered history of "Cyrano de Bergerac" as a stage musical. The crashing thunder of full orchestra sadly curdles the delicate fragrance that distinguishes Edmond Rostand's original play.

Writer Bradley Greenwald and composer Robert Elhai have approached the challenge of bringing music to Cyrano with a different tack in "C.," which had its premiere Saturday in a Theater Latté Da production at the Ritz Theater.

Greenwald and Elhai rarely allow the music to trample on Cyrano's bravado, his fragile insecurity and his self sacrifice. Melody and instrument are unmistakably there but they express themselves in a solo fife, a guitar, a piano, a small combo, bass line or an a cappella voice. Rare for a musical, the song seems an essential part of the action.

In fashioning music that springs from the life of the play, Greenwald and Elhai manage a small triumph in elevating the poetry while retaining the enduring charm, honesty and nobility of Cyrano's story. The finest illustration is the lovely and famous balcony scene in which Cyrano, hidden by the night, expresses his love for Roxane. Greenwald's lyrics sit perfectly on the meter of Elhai's eclectic and always tuneful score.

Greenwald also portrays the hero in director Peter Rothstein's ambitious production. The show seemed a bit unsure as it opened Saturday but found its rhythm shortly. Greenwald's interpretation of Cyrano has less of the robust bluster and winking confidence that some actors have used to define the man. He is more human, a vulnerable outsider who even in swagger shows a psyche damaged by the weight of carrying around that preposterous nose.

 Kendall Anne Thompson is fine, with a lyrical soprano voice, as Roxane, the woman Cyrano has long loved. David Darrow plays Christian, the handsome young man for whom Roxane has fallen. Darrow finds rich humor in Christian's transparency as a dunce, his comfort as a simpleton — the perfect id contrast to Cyrano's ego.
Rothstein's production looks great on Jim Smart's set of a rustic French village. Costumer Rich Hamson works in a palette of earth tones that reflect Marcus Dilliard's dusty lights with a constant sepia effect.

On two occasions, the music's good intentions interfere with the words in this excellent production. In Cyrano's initial duel with Senator DeWhite (John Middleton, with the right tone of pomposity and dry menace), we struggle to hear the full throat of his poetic elan. Then again at play's end, when Cyrano reads one last letter to Roxane, an offstage chorus sings. As lovely as this evensong is, it competes with Cyrano's reading — which in some respects is the emotional zenith of this play. Something to think about.

Greenwald and Elhai have taken an exquisite approach to this old story. Rothstein has made it fill the stage, with Jason Hansen directing the music, and a cast that is full of good voice and lively spirit. The classic work is honored.


"C." by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Jill SchaferCherry and Spoon

April 4, 2016

Friends, @TheaterLatteDa's C. totally wrecked me & left me with such an exquisite ache I might never recover. #theatermusically #allthefeels This was my 140-character review of Theater Latte Da's world premiere new musical C., and even though I will give you several hundred more words here, I'm not sure I can express it any better than this. This new musical adaptation of the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, featuring book and lyrics by Bradley Greewald and music by Robert Elhai, directed by the incomparable vision of Peter Rothstein, is the second in Latte Da's NEXT 20/20 program in which they have committed to bringing 20 new works of music-theater to the stage by 2020. I saw the first reading of the show three years ago and thought it showed great promise, but it has exceeded my expectations in what is now a fully formed and exquisite new musical, with all elements of production coming together to tell this beloved story in a new and innovative way.

Proving that there is no end to his talent, Bradley Greenwald went back to the original French play to write this new translation/adaptation of the story. His language is poetic and lyrical while still sounding natural and modern. He sticks fairly close to the original story, or at least what I remember of it from Park Square Theatre's 2014 production of the play. Cyrano and Christian are soldiers in the same regiment, the former known for his skill with words and the sword, and the latter a bit of an unknown as newcomer to the regiment. Cyrano is in love with his beautiful childhood friend Roxane, so when she tells him that she loves the handsome Christian, he agrees to look out for him. Unbeknownst to Roxane, he also agrees to write letters to her from Christian, who is not blessed with the gift of poetry as Cyrano is, signing them with the letter C. Roxane continues to fall in love with Christian through his (Cyrano's) letters, culminating in a lovely balcony scene reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. The second act sees Cyrano and Christian going off to war, with Roxane in pursuit, unable to be parted from her love. When she tells Christian that she loves him for his soul, and would love him even if he were ugly, he realizes that it's Cyrano she truly loves, not him. It's a tragically bittersweet ending, as truths are revealed too late.*

Cyrano thinks his big nose, his "ugly" appearance, is standing in the way of getting what he wants, namely Roxane. But it's not. His only obstacle is the belief that he's ugly and undeserving of Roxane's love. We all have thoughts of "I'm not this enough" or "I'm too that" that stand in the way of our happiness. Cyrano shows us the tragedy that can result from listening to our thoughts of self-doubt and letting them stop us from going after the life that we want.

The 16-person ensemble of musicians, actors, and singers is fantastic (although the lack of diversity in a cast this size is disappointing), but Bradley Greenwald is the brilliant center around which they revolve. He imbues the iconic role of Cyrano with such humanity, passion, humor, pathos, and utmost dedication to the character, the story, and the words that he wrote. And it goes without saying that his voice is stunning. Writing this beautiful dialogue and song lyrics, that flow seamlessly from one to the other, and playing the title character so beautifully and honestly, is truly a remarkable feat from this beloved local theater artist who continues to surprise us with his talent.

Highlights in the ensemble are too many to mention, but must include Kendall Anne Thompson's Roxane, lovely and radiant as the embodiment of love and beauty and the object of both Cs' affection; David Darrow as the adorably sweet but not so clever Christian, who realizes too late the pickle they've gotten themselves into with this seemingly harmless trickery; the always entertaining Max Wojtanowicz as everyone's favorite baker; singer/actor/musician Grace Lowe as one of the Bohemians; John Middleton as the pompous senator also after Roxane; and Janet Hanson, stealing a few scenes as Roxane's sweets-loving companion.

Robert Elhai's ingenious score is a perfect match to Bradley's words, and covers a wide range of styles that feel organic to the storytelling, very much like the poetry plucked from the air Cyrano is always talking about. Some songs sound like folk songs that have been sung for hundreds of years, some like modern songs you might hear a folk singer sing in a coffee shop, some are beautiful musical theater ballads, some are rhythmic marching off to war songs. The songs are arranged with sparse orchestration, typically just three to four instruments accompanying the singing, instruments as varied as accordion, various flutes, stringed instruments, and other Renaissance era instruments. The band is not separate from the cast, but one in the same with the ensemble, playing in the cafe or the theater, or rehearsing off-stage, characters in the story as much as anyone else. Even Music Director extraordinaire Jason Hanson gets to talk, play a role, and run around the stage while making this lovely score sound the best it possibly could. Hooray for the band!

This musical sounds exquisite thanks to Sean Healey's sound design. I'm one who always begs for unmiked performers in musicals, believing that leads to the most beautiful and authentic sound. This show has proven me wrong. The performers are miked, but it's so subtly done, both visually and audibly, and with such a delicate touch, that for most of the show it's not even noticeable. There have been complaints in the past (not by me) about the sound in this old theater, but Theater Latte Da has obviously figured out the acoustics in their new home with this fine example of how to amplify the sound of music-theater without compromising the beauty of the music and words, especially with an intimate show in an intimate space performed by trained professionals.

Chanhassen Dinner Theatre's resident costume designer Rich Hamson proves that he can do subtle and natural costumes as well as he can do bold and spectacular costumes (e.g., Beauty and the Beast). The cast is dressed in neutral shades that range from off-white to khaki, the only hint of color being Roxanne's pale pink dress, and an appropriate turn to black for the somber ending. Cadet uniforms are dirty and distressed, contrasting with the new recruit's crispness, and the Bohemians look charmingly Bohemian.

Jim Smart's scenic design carries the shabby chic look of the Ritz Theater's patchy paint and cement walls onto the set, with walls at the back and on either side of the stage that exactly match the also seen walls of the theater. A large tree with overarching limbs dominates the set, from which a curtain is hung to hide or reveal. Latte Da continues to make great use of the Ritz, utilizing the side counter seats and the audience space as well.

Theater Latte Da set the bar high with the first new piece of music-theater in their NEXT 20/20 program, the modern folk-rock love story Lullaby. They've raised the bar even higher here with C., an exquisite new musical, an idea so beautifully brought to fruition. Both pieces explore the genre of music-theater and push it to new places with innovation and creativity. It's thrilling that the American art form of musical theater continues to evolve in such exciting ways, and we're so lucky that such work is created, developed, supported, and produced right here in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Cyrano's life motto could very well double as the motto of NEXT 20/20: "Sing out, sing out, let your song be known. Let the melody be beautiful, and the poetry always your own."

C. continues through April 24, and next month Theater Latte Da will present readings of three new works in progress as part of their annual NEXT series. The future of music-theater is not just on Broadway in Hamilton, it can also be experienced at the Ritz Theater in NE Minneapolis.

*Plot summary borrowed from my post about Park Square Theatre's 2014 production of the play.


C. by Theater Latté Da performing at the Ritz Theater


April 2, 2016

Cyrano’s nose is great.

Super-long, warty, bent, broken (one imagines) numerous times, the nose provides a convincing reason for Cyrano’s suicidal self-loathing (“How can anyone love a face like this?”). His ugly honker drives him into increasingly arcane and abtruse machinations of deception – he deceives the fair Roxanne, the handsome Christian, himself. Non-fakey (unlike the Pinocchio-like probiscus in Steve Martin’s bloodless filmRoxanne), the nose truly makes the story work. According to the program, the nose was designed by one Robert Dunn. Mr. Dunn merits no bio; he deserves one.

C. (Theater Latté Da, performing at the Ritz Theater, through April 24) is adapted from Edmund Rostand’s oft-performed (to the point of cliché-ness) play Cyrano de Bergerac. But (unsurprisingly, given Latté Da’s provenance as MN’s preeminent purveyor of music theater – now that Skylark Opera, tragically, is on the rocks) C. is a musical. Featuring gorgeous music by Robert Elhai, C. soars and flies, very watchable despite some flaws (about which more in a moment).

You know the story: Cyrano, he of the grande schnozzola del mundo, sees himself as ugly and unlovable. Beloved of Roxanne (and unable to tell her so), he agrees to write poetical letters (many of which are done, effectively, as songs) to Roxanne on behalf of the (it must be said) dull, though virile and handsome, Christian. The letters thrill Roxanne (naturally; they’re terrific). She falls heels over head in love with Christian. Ah, but in the end, all is revealed (and of course I am not going to reveal how this happens).

C. is the Bradley Greenwald show. Mr. G wrote the effective book and lyrics. And as if that weren’t enough, he also plays the lonely and loving Cyrano. And sings many of Mr. Elhai’s brilliant songs (and holy moley can this man sing). And wields a mean rapier (fights nicely designed by Annie Enneking). There may be a certain sameness, perhaps, to his performance (one of the play’s flaws), but who cares: I pant endlessly to Greenwald’s multi-faceted work. He is brilliant, one of the best actors we have. And he provides the main reason to see C.

Flaw #2 (now that I’m on the subject): length. C. is two and a half hours long (with intermission). Exhausting. Also, there’s the headache-inducing chemical smoke. There. Ignore me.

Performances in C., under the crisp hand of director Peter Rothstein, are, as one has come to expect with this theater, excellent. As Roxanne, Kendall Anne Thompson is winsome and fetching. She gives her character dignity and power and makes up for a slight brittleness via outstanding musical chops. David Darrow as the blustery and fearless Christian is wonderful. Ditto the basso profundo James Ramlet. The quirky Max Wojtanowicz made me giggle endlessly. My sincere apologies to those I’ve left out.

Everyone, I have to say, to a person, sings brilliantly. This, combined with a good story, Greaanwald’s brilliance, and despite a few minor flaws, makes C. the best show currently running in the Twins. It’s the play to see. So see it.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book about the magic of bedtime stories, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has just been published. In progress: a theatrical portrait of the great Anna May Wong. Please visit John’s website.