Why I Wrote What I Wrote....On Goodspeed's 'Cyrano'

Cyrano program.jpg

With the news that “Cyrano” starring “Game of Thrones” Peter Dinklage will have a new production off-Broadway production in October, by the New Group, I thought I’d re-publish my piece when the show was trying out at Goodspeed Musical’s Norma Terris Theatre in Chester last August and September.

Here is what I wrote about the review I ran after the show had closed in September.

The folks at Goodspeed Musicals are upset at me and I can’t blame them. 

In their view I violated a trust in writing about their “developmental production” of a new musical “Cyrano” starring “Game of Thrones” actor Peter Dinklage at its second stage, the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester.

I wrote what I called a “developmental review” after seeing it on its last day of performances. Critics were not invited to review the show, which is the policy of works at the Chester theater — though there were several exceptions over the years.

So I bought my own ticket, wrote my thoughts in what I considered a positive and constructive way, and posted it after the run ended. 

I did this for several reasons. The first and most important is that my first obligation as a critic — but also as an arts journalist — is to the reader, not to any institution. I am not any theater’s employee. 

I usually cringe whenever I am introduced as “our advocate for theater.” I am glad when theaters do well and I can write about that but my responsibility as a journalist is to write honesty, informatively and (hopefully) well about everything they do — or don’t. It pains me when I have to write on misfortunes that befall theaters, whether of a scandal, a financial pickle or when an actor drops out of a show. But write I must, as rigorously as a sports columnist would write about the Red Sox, a political reporter would cover the governor, or a journalist whose beat is the insurance industry. You could say tax-exempt, not-for profit institutions have a greater responsibility for transparency and openness. At least I would.

So the decision to write about “Cyrano” was not done lightly. However, it was done enthusiastically. When I arrived home after seeing the show, I felt I had seen something special. Stunned by the brilliant performance of Dinklage, impressed by the music, staging and adaptation, I felt the show had a terrific future. The fact that it could go on to glory without some professional assessment of the time when it all started in Connecticut, I felt was a disservice to readers.

After all, it was being written about on social media and in theater chat rooms. So anonymous writers can weigh in but professional theater writers cannot? And when would it be OK for arts journalists to finally share their thoughts about the show in print. A year from now? Five years? Never?

So I posted my “thoughts,” in the spirit of Boston critics like Elliot Norton and Kevin Kelly and Carolyn Clay I grew up reading an d who got me excited about writing about the theater.  They reviewed new works that were heading to Broadway with sensitivity, encouragement and good advice. They were part of that developmental process of new work — not excluded from it. Yes, those shows had a clear trajectory to New York but “Cyrano”  has ambitions too.

Having a star and talent of Peter Dinklage’s stature in a new musical of a familiar title with music by a hip international band is significant news.  Obviously. It was of great interest to Connecticut theater-goers. The show stirred such box office excitement that Goodspeed limited four tickets per household.  When does a theater need to do that? The production was extended for a week before it had its first performance. Single tickets started at $70 for "Cyrano.". For comparison, performances for the next show in Chester are mostly $49. 

Goodspeed almost never has any star names in their productions, certainly not at the Chester theater. Linder Eder was  an exception in “Camille Claudel.” But, no offense to Ms. Eder, Dinklage is an international star and one of the greatest classical actors of our time. 

This was no little show without pedigree or purse. Nor was it a script-in-hand reading like those presented at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. This was a show with first-class production values that could easily fit in just fine, as is, in New York, 

So I wrote about it -- when the run was over -- so at least folks in Connecticut who didn’t see it could have a sense of what it was like, and the thousands who did, could compare their impressions with mine. 

With a continuing history of covering theater in Connecticut for more than 40 years, I have always tried to serve the readers. And in that time I hope I have earned their trust, which I value above others.