Crossing Swords

nytheatre.com review by Wesley Frugé
July 24, 2013

The pain and heartache of love unreturned is felt universally, and has been explored in literature and entertainment for centuries.  Crossing Swords reaches into the past for assistance with exploring this theme but adds layers of modern social and sexual identity issues.  Using Cyrano de Bergerac as a basis for the story, this musical updates the classic tale while retaining the most sincere aspects of the original play.  A combination of winning songs, excellent performances, and a strong second act make this an enjoyable musical despite its’ underdeveloped characters and plot.

Set in the late 60s, Crossing Swords chronicles the tale of three high-school students playing the leads in a joint production of Cyrano de Bergerac between the all-boys school and the all-girls school.  Soon the plot of the play they are rehearsing begins to intertwine with their real lives.  There is one small difference however: Jeremy, the high school student who is playing Cyrano, is in love with David (who plays Christian) instead of Nicky (Roxanne).  The textures and themes of Cyrano fit perfectly into this world, where sexual orientation can be just as deformative as a giant nose.  By the end of show, the characters are faced with either living life to the fullest, or remaining closed off and cold – hiding who they truly are from those they love.

The musical features incredibly strong performances, especially from Linda Balgord as Miss Daignault and Lyle Colby Mackston as the Cyrano character, Jeremy.  Balgord infuses such warmth, love, and energy into every scene making even forgettable moments or songs rife with passion.  She plays every moment to its maximum potential, finding the full breadth of character beyond what is written on the page.  Mackston provides us with a very closed off protagonist at the beginning, but begins to open up and share more of himself through the run of the show revealing a raw, visceral vulnerability by the end that is especially featured in his performance of “Non, Merci” – a spectacular number from the show-within-a-show that is performed as Cyrano.  A less gifted actor would not be able to establish a strong connection with the audience after spending the first half of the play so emotionally closed off, but Mackston drops the walls so disarmingly that we rush in.  The rest of the cast includes Steven Hauck as Sir, Marrick Smith as David, and Ali Gordon as Nicky.  They are all gifted singers, and the entire cast has excellent chemistry.

Joe Slabe, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, has definitely succeeded in adapting Cyrano de Bergerac into a musical set in modern times, and it works very well as a high school coming-of-age story.  The parts of the play where text is lifted entirely from the source material flow seamlessly into the modern scenes.  A delicate balance of new and old exist here, and Slabe walks this fine line with ease – I never felt cheated by seeing recycled material as it worked so well to tell Jeremy’s story.  The songs were traditional in style yet colorful and fun, and for the most part they were involved in the story telling process.  The musical adds texture to a classic, and does so with respect to the original, but without the fear of changing what is necessary to tell this current story.

There is room for improvement though, and with further development Crossing Swords could surpass the fun evening it currently is, to become something much richer and fuller.  The musical as a whole suffers from a lack of conflict, especially in Act One.  None of the characters are villains, and while this is nice to see in an intimate piece like this, it often contributes to scenes where the stakes are incredibly low.  By waiting to reveal that Jeremy is gay until the end of Act One, I felt detached from the lead character and also bored while waiting for a development that was obvious would eventually come.  This leads to the second area that could use further work: the characters had very little to offer beyond face value.  Who are these people?  What are their hopes and dreams?  What are their family lives like?  Very little insight is given into what makes these characters who they are; this is especially true for the young students.  Because of this, it is difficult to latch on to the story and feel a true connection.  Act Two turns that around for the most part though, and the stakes are raised as Jeremy is outed and has to choose to either accept who he is and tell his best friend, or stick with the status quo and remain in the shadows. 

Crossing Swords is an excellent production, featuring strong performances, smart staging, effective design, and many worthwhile story-telling devices.  With more character and story development, this musical would work on all levels.  As it stands now, it is an entertaining coming-of-age story.

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