WILMINGTON — John Iverson had no idea “Cyrano: The Musical” existed until Barbara Lipstadt brought it to his attention and he got a hold of the soundtrack.
“It’s early ‘70s Broadway music — there’s a lot of originality to it,” Iverson said. “You find yourself singing this involuntarily all the time. The music is really, really good.”
For performances of “Cyrano” at Memorial Hall in Wilmington on Aug. 19 to 21, Iverson is playing the lead character and play’s namesake. He said he’s having a lot of fun singing the songs, which have him going from his lowest usable note to falsetto.
“I got everything from a sweet love song to angry yelling at the world kind of stuff to a really good death song at the end,” he said. “It’s challenging and wonderful, and I’m having a great time.”
Lipstadt, the show’s musical director, founded the Deerfield Valley Players in 1997 to perform “The Pirates of Penzance” before putting on Broadway musicals every summer for the next 11 years. For about a decade, the group went on hiatus until returning in 2019 with “Cabaret,” which she called “a great success.”
Aiming for a cabaret style once again, the plan for “Cyrano” is to set up tables and chairs similar to for “Cabaret,” with regular seating in the back and tables in front. Wine will be served.
“Cyrano” opened on Broadway in 1973 and starred Christopher Plummer, who received a Tony award for the role. That year, Lipstadt and her husband went to the Colonial Theatre in Boston, where they were living at the time, to see a preview of the show before it went to New York City.
“We didn’t know anything about it,” Lipstadt said. “We were blown away. We just loved it. We always remembered it.”
Lipstadt always wanted to put the show on with the Deerfield Valley Players. She thought the group had actors and actresses to fit the roles “very well,” she said.
Iverson also played the lead in “Cabaret.”
Reed Brown, the show’s director, teaches theater in universities. When his family returned to Vermont, someone suggested getting in touch with Lipstadt, who was getting the Deerfield Valley Players together again.
When Lipstadt asked Brown what he thought of doing “Cyrano,” he said he loved the idea.
“I’ve been a huge fan of the story of Cyrano de Bergerac,” he said, having organized two other productions of the show but never the musical version.
Brown said he had every confidence Iverson could handle the role of Cyrano.
“It’s a monumental task for an actor,” Brown said. “It’s one of those things in the acting field we refer to as the mountain you have to climb. There’s Hamlet, there’s Lear and there’s always Cyrano. Kevin Kline just did it on Broadway right before the pandemic and you know, he’s tackled Hamlet three times.”
Though he hadn’t counted the lines at the time of the interview, Iverson said there’s a lot, and Brown assured him he has more than the rest of the cast combined.
Brown described the play as a comedy that turns tragic.
“It’s based on a lead character that can only be described as a grotesque,” he said. “The only other comparable play I know is ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’ Same country, same feeling. The French, at the time, were big on characters who, because of their physical appearance, were outcasts and Cyrano definitely fits that mold.”
It’s Cyrano’s big nose that makes him fall into the category, Lipstadt said. Iverson described Cyrano as very intelligent and articulate, and a big romantic who didn’t feel capable of having romance because of his ugliness.
The man the story is based off died in 1648, but a play wasn’t written until several hundred years later, Brown said. The first production occurred in 1903. Brown said it was written by Edmond Rostand, probably sometime in the 1890s.
A film version, with big sword fights but no singing, came out in 1950. Brown said most people don’t remember it exists.
“It was one of the great swashbucklers in the Errol Flynn mode,” he said.
In Wilmington, the play will include 15 cast members from the region and a full orchestra. They’re from local communities such as Jacksonville, Wilmington, Dover, Brattleboro and Putney. Iverson lives in Bernardston, Mass.
Brown isn’t surprised by the talent found here. He said he founded a small theater company in Missouri, where he realized how people with “a remarkable level of talent” can be discovered waiting to perform in areas without many opportunities to see theater, dance, opera or symphonies.
It’s been two years since “Cabaret” was put on in Wilmington, but people still talk about having been able to watch such a high-quality performance locally, Brown said.
“I know some of the young people who have come,” he said. “It was probably the first full-blown musical they have seen.”
Since the productions are an all-volunteer effort, rehearsals are spread throughout the course of a summer. Music rehearsals began around May or June.
Brown said the group commits a lot of time to the show and needs to adapt to people’s schedules.
Doors open at 7 p.m. with shows starting at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19, 20 and 21. Tickets can be purchased at the box office the night of the show, events.com or Bartleby’s Books at 17 West Main St. in Wilmington.