…takes us from Cyrano de Bergerac to American Idol, although we might be able to do it in five.
First, Cyrano. There really was such a person – he was born on this date in 1619 and he met an untimely death about 36 years later. He did have quite a prominent nose, apparently, but it really wasn’t extraordinary.
And he was indeed a well-known writer and a skilled swordsman who fought in one of the battles of Arras. Curiously, his best known works are among the earliest examples of science fiction – in The States and Empires of the Moon, he finds himself off to the moon in a rocket powered by firecrackers. Landing, he finds moon-men who have four legs and very musical voices. They have muskets that shoot game and cook it automatically – an early version of robots.
But Cyrano is immortal not because of his sci-fi or his duels; he is immortal because of Edmond Rostand’s comedy, based very loosely on his life. Cyrano de Bergerac opened in 1897 and was a smash, soon translated into other languages and performed all over Europe. The Jose Ferrer movie version is the one to see.
Cyrano was Rostand’s third play – his first, Les Romantiques, had opened in 1894 and it too was very popular. Les Romantiques was based – again, very loosely – on the classic tale of Pyramis and Thisbe, lovers kept apart by a feud between their families.
Les Romantiques was performed frequently over the years and it became the basis for an American musical about lovers separated by a family feud, though in this version, the feud is an artificial one. The play – The Fantasticks – opened off Broadway in 1960 and ran until 2002.
The Fantasticks closed after 42 years and more than 17,000 performances – it is the longest-running musical in the history of the theater. If you’re sorry you missed it, not to worry – a revival reopened in August of 2006 and it is still running.
Among the many actors who had roles in it over the years are Liza Minelli, Elliott Gould, F. Murray Abraham, Glenn Close, Kristin Chenoweth and – my favorite classic song-and-dance man – Jerry Orbach.
Let’s see: Cyrano to Rostand to Les Romantiques to The Fantasticks to the revival of The Fantasticks to…. Anthony Fedorov, who appeared in the revival from May to July of 2007. Anthony was a finalist from season four of American Idol. Six, count’em, six.
Finally, happy birthday to the great Dame Kiri te Kanawa – she makes it look easy: