Kevin Kline in the title role of Cyrano de Bergerac sounds like casting made in heaven, and, indeed, in the current Broadway revival of Edmond Rostand's 1897 play directed by David Leveaux at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, Kline is a charming, verbally agile Cyrano, who seems to be having fun playing the role. But real kudos go to the designers — Don Holder, lighting; Tom Pye, sets; Gregory Gale, costumes; and David van Tiegham, music — who solved the problem of multiple locales in period France, as the action moves from a tavern to a battlefield to a convent.
“David Leveaux and Tom Pye felt that the world of Cyrano was one of poetry and beauty,” says Holder. “Cyrano is a dreamer and often lives in the world of imagination. His journey is part myth, part fairytale; his life is a performance and rarely earthbound, so it made sense that the frame of the play never really departed from the confines of the theatre.” With this as the central idea, the stage is transformed by suggestions of different places, rather than by flying in or trucking on one realistic set after the other. “We discussed a very specific lighting vocabulary for each of the five acts, which we hoped would complete the transformation and afford each act with its own distinct identity,” Holder notes. “The battlefield needed to feel post-apocalyptic, first revealed by the cold light of dawn, then by strong morning sunlight with the arrival of Roxanne, and finally by a cold, expressionistic light with the death of Christian.”
The walls of the set are faux brick and extend to the back wall of the theatre, as well as far into the wings. “David did not want the show to look too much like an overly deferential period piece,” says Holder. “He wanted the whole production, while referring to a specific time and place, to have a spare and contemporary elegance. We intentionally avoided over-embellishment from a visual perspective, with the exception of the costumes, which were intended to be opulent and very detailed.”Holder found that he had very few positions over the stage due to the amount and scale of the flying scenery, so that the overhead plot consists of four electrics, most at trims higher than the tallest genie lift, and three of the electrics are rigged as walk-able trusses, accessible from the stage left fly gallery. “The 40'-tall walls don't allow much use of sidelight, except from downstage of the plaster line and through a very large window located stage right,” says Holder. “I rely heavily on light through this window — with the exception of Act I, when it's closed — to motivate and shape the light in each scene. In our early discussions about the play, it became clear that I needed to employ equipment in this window that could make a very bold and singular architectural and/or emotional statement using one — or very few — sources.”
As a result, Holder chose ARRI 4kW HMI Fresnels with Wybron Eclipse Dousers and Coloram II Scollers. “I first used this type of light at the Metropolitan Opera [Magic Flute], and thought they would be perfect for this particular application. The HMIs turned out to be incredibly useful and worked even better than I had hoped,” he adds.
Because of limited overhead hanging space, the need for many specials, and the epic scope of the play, Holder's design employs more moving lights than he might normally use on a play, including a combination of nine Vari-Lite VL1000s as profiles and an equal number of VL3500Qs. He also has five City Theatrical AutoYoke® with ETC Source Four 10° units on the front-of-house truss. The show is controlled via a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog 2 programmed by Warren Flynn for moving lights, and an ETC Obsession 1500 programmed by head electrician Brian Aman for the conventional fixtures.
“I have great respect and admiration for the work of the Dutch Masters, and I'm sure most of my colleagues share this feeling. When looking at the model, the space cried out for a painterly treatment, especially given the period in which the play takes place and the large window that allows the light into the room,” explains Holder. “The combination of emotional context, costumes, scenery, and staging often reminded me of a work by Rembrandt or Vermeer, and I felt that the light really needed to help complete the stage picture that had already been created.”
Act V takes place in the waning light of day, closely paralleled by Cyrano's life slipping away as he says goodbye to his one and only love, and Holder created a moving progression from sunset to twilight to a moonlit in that act that feels so organic to the piece. “I also had very little time to get it lit, so what we ended up with represents my first impulse for the scene,” he adds. “In my experience, your first impulse is often the best, and I really think that's the case in this instance.”