The figurative smell of sausage being made permeated the air during a recent visit to a rehearsal for “C.”
The premiere of Theater Latté Da’s new musical based on “Cyrano de Bergerac” wouldn’t come for more than two weeks, so the Bohemian mess in the Ritz Theater rehearsal hall was completely understandable. Director Peter Rothstein’s script was chock full of scribbled additions and deletions.
Bradley Greenwald, doing double duty as Cyrano and playwright, worked out assignments with musical director Jason Hansen on a particular song. Who in the cast would sing; who would play an instrument? David Darrow grabbed a guitar and Hansen plunked notes on a piano.
By the time “C.” opens Saturday at the Ritz, Rothstein and Greenwald will have aimed to tidy up the inevitable chaos of new work and put forth another musical take on the old story of a man whose physical oddity cannot contain his bursting spirit. Latté Da hopes to express the eternal heart of Edmond Rostand’s 19th-century play, and at the same time bring a new musical aesthetic to a play that has been set to music many times.
Perhaps you remember Michael Langham directing an Anthony Burgess libretto at the Guthrie before “Cyrano” took a circuitous route to Broadway, starring Christopher Plummer in 1973. Twenty years later, a Dutch version made it to New York. Composer Frank Wildhorn and librettist Leslie Bricusse threw their weight behind a show with dreams of a West End production in 2006. It opened and closed in Japan three years later.
It’s doubtful that Jeremy Desmon’s “Cyrano de BurgerShack,” stocked with a jukebox from the Go-Go’s to Chumbawamba, ever had dreams of the Great White Way.
Future aspirations were the furthest thing from Rothstein’s mind this week. I’m “working toward Saturday night,” he said.
Developing new work
“C.” came out of Latté Da’s Next: New Musicals in the Making program and features music by Minneapolis composer Robert Elhai. Greenwald brought his first script to the party in 2013. He had read versions of the play but put those behind him so he could translate the original play through his own “limited knowledge of French,” the help of online translators and old glossaries.
“What bowled me over reading Rostand’s word-for-word translations instead of the glittering poetic versions of Burgess and [poet Brian] Hooker was the profound love and humanity in these characters.”
He decided not to write in verse except when necessary for the character.
“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,” Greenwald said.
Besides, Latté Da wanted to add music and, as Rothstein pointed out, layering melody on top of couplets was a bit like “gilding the lily.”
In fact, Elhai’s music is a key part of this production’s personality — evident even in the rugged early rehearsals. As actors portraying soldiers sit around the camp, a single instrument will rise up and singers will react.
“There’s no bursting into song with an invisible orchestra,” Greenwald said. “When there’s music in the scene, all the characters hear it. The characters sing to music that is part of the scene and with instrumentalists who are characters.”
Latté Da’s cast includes Kendall Anne Thompson as Roxanne, the object of Cyrano’s desires. David Darrow plays the handsome but ineloquent Christian.
Greenwald was wary of taking on the responsibility of writing and performing Cyrano.
“Peter talked me into it,” he said. “This is one of the biggest challenges of my 27-year career.”
Although Rothstein is keeping his eye on this weekend, he understands that the mission of Latté Da’s Next program is to develop new work that has legs. He calls “C.” the most ambitious new thing his company has attempted, although he does mention “Steerage Song,” a 2013 musical on European immigration, in the same sentence.
“ ‘Steerage Song’ was large in its scope, but here we have 16 actors in a small theater, four pianos, guitars set everywhere, sound from six different locations in the building,” Rothstein said. “We’re trying to see what this theater can be. We want it to be our home” — Latté Da is negotiating to buy the Ritz — “so we’re playing with the architecture of the building.”
And will it all come together?
“The audience will tell you.”