Audiences have long had a love affair with the dashing hero of Edmond Rostand’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC. Theatre creators also succumbed to the charms of the man with the generous proboscis, but even more to the central concept of a brilliant wordsmith wooing the woman he loves for a vacuous pretty boy. And both stage and screen have seen numerous adaptations of the story.
Barry Wyner’s CALVIN BERGER is a small-scale musical version of the story set in a modern American high school. And despite numerous productions since the show’s 2006 premiere, Los Angeles is only now seeing the show in a strongly-cast production at the Colony Theatre.
Calvin (Frankie A. Rodriguez) is a smart and generally sunny high school senior whose biggest problem is his perception of his nose as incredibly large. Well, that and his crush on Rosanna (Jasmine Sharma), a popular girl who is the only person to render him tongue-tied.
Luckily, Rosanna seeks Calvin’s help in creating a new charity which he gladly signs on to. Less excited by this prospect is Calvin’s BFF, Bret (Corinne Miller), who is patiently awaiting the day that Calvin will realize that they are meant to be together.
Complicating this trio is the hot new jock in school, Matt (Jordan Quisno), who immediately catches Rosanna’s eye. But, if Rosanna makes Calvin tongue-tied, her effect on Matt is to make him utterly unintelligible.
Wyner has written the music, the lyrics, and the libretto, and, while this is usually a mistake, CALVIN BERGER is a solid and genuinely entertaining show, particularly for younger audiences. Wyner’s book is successful because it alludes to CYRANO, without attempting a slavish adaptation. His adaptation of the famous balcony scene in the play is cheekily played through earbuds. Wyner has not ignored other theatrical inspirations. The scene in which Calvin tries to teach Matt how to woo Rosanna is straight out of AS YOU LIKE IT. The score is more serviceable than memorable, but the lyrics are quite witty.
The young cast members all have terrific voices and offer exuberant performances under the careful direction of Richard Israel. Rodriguez’s Calvin is wonderfully endearing as he navigates the minefield of growing up. Miller’s powerhouse vocals and tough public exterior nicely shield the sensitive girl we meet in her solo moments. Sharma and Quisno bring humor and humanity to characters that could easily feel like simple stereotypes.
CALVIN BERGER is a pleasant and diverting show, though it shows its age most in the decision to skim over the darker issues of body image and sexuality. That is something that would no doubt be addressed more realistically if the show had been written in this decade.
Colony Theatre February 16 – March 26, 2023 www.colonytheatre.org