by Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY
NEW YORK -- The first and last time that the marvelous British actor Douglas Hodge graced a Broadway stage, he wore sequins and mascara. As drag queen Albin in a 2010 staging of La Cage Aux Folles, Hodge captured both the charisma and the aching vulnerability of a flamboyant personality with a fragile heart, earning a Tony Award in the process.
In the Roundabout Theatre Company's thrilling new revival of Cyrano de Bergerac (* * * * out of four), Hodge turns up as a very different character, but one possessing a similar duality. And it's a safe bet, even at this early stage, that he'll collect another Tony nod for his effort.
The title role of Edmond Rostand's 1897 play has attracted many formidable talents through the years, among them Ralph Richardson, Christopher Plummer, Derek Jacobi and Broadway's most recent Cyrano, Kevin Kline. But in this production, which opened Thursday at the American Airlines Theatre, Hodge manages to breathe new fire into the brave, brilliant hero with the Achilles nose.
Mind you, the leading man benefits from a superb supporting cast, directed with blazing vigor by Hodge's fellow Brit Jamie Lloyd, and from Ranjit Bolt's witty, earthy translation, also a U.K. import.
When this Cyrano expounds on the virtues of his proboscis, shortly after making his first entrance, his verse is at once lyrical and hilariously profane. When, later, he stands beneath his adored Roxane's balcony, pouring seductive words into the mouth of Christian -- the simple soldier whom Cyrano allows to woo his lovely cousin with his own letters -- the bittersweet ache beneath his poetry is painfully accessible.
Lloyd, likewise, proves adept at mining the play's pathos and humor, its romantic ardor and its swashbuckling action. From Cyrano's early duel with a foolish challenger to the climactic battle in which he and Christian risk their lives, there are scenes as gripping and exhilarating as any you're likely to see on stage this season.
Hodge, equally convincing as a dazzling wordsmith and a fearless fighter, a passionate (if unrequited) lover and a wounded, haunted soul, is well matched by the other principals. It would be hard to imagine a more ideal Roxane, in form or execution, than the gorgeous French actress Clemence Poesy, who brings both a playful intelligence and an effortless sensuality to the part.
Kyle Soller's Christian is neither a bland pretty boy nor a total dimwit; his forthright earnestness makes him credible as Cyrano's unlikely ally. Conversely, Patrick Page -- last seen in Times Square as cartoon villain the Green Goblin in Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark -- is masterfully dastardly as Comte de Guiche, who also covets Roxane's affection, though his arrogance repels her far more than Cyrano's looks.
These assets add up to the most exciting Broadway production of a pre-20th century classic since 2010's The Merchant of Venice -- a winner by more than a nose.