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He's set 'Cyrano' in high school -- and to music

Big-nosed smart guy loves beautiful girl so much he writes great letters for his cute friend to woo her. Oh, the pain of it all! Doesn't that just sound like high school?

Well, it did to composer and Peabody native Barry Wyner , who has loved the story of Cyrano de Bergerac ever since he saw ``Roxanne," Steve Martin's cinematic take on Edmond Rostand's 1897 tale. So he created ``Calvin Berger," a musical version of ``Cyrano," set in a contemporary American high school. The show is currently in previews at Gloucester Stage Company (it's a world premiere) and opens Sunday afternoon.

``I find the emotions beautiful and real," Wyner says by phone from Peabody, where he's staying with his parents. ``What I relate to most in the story is his insecurity about his physical features. The place where that insecurity is most heightened is in high school. That was the impetus there."

While Wyner didn't suffer from one outstanding physical flaw when he was a teenager, ``as I've gotten older, things have crept in -- don't want to get too specific -- it's made me empathize more with those who do have one, and made me think more about body image."

While there have been numerous adaptations of ``Cyrano," not too many have been musicals. For one thing, there's that pesky war in the second act; it's not only a downer , it's technically challenging.

``It gets very dark," the author- composer says. ``So in my version I wasn't going to send my characters to Iraq. The whole thing culminates in their high school. There's a bachelor auction, where girls bid on dates with guys. It forces them to confront their physical insecurities."

Wyner ended up doing the world premiere of ``Calvin Berger" at Gloucester because he connected with artistic director Israel Horovitz while attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1998, Wyner adapted an early Horovitz play, ``Sugar Plum, " into a musical, and when he contacted the playwright for permission, Horovitz said fine, just send a video of the production.

Horovitz liked what he saw, Wyner says, and brought the composer and 10 students to Gloucester Stage that summer to perform it for two nights.

``It was such an amazing thing to be coming out of college, have a show put on, have the media take an interest in it," Wyner says. ``It was an exciting start for me."

Since then he's composed for several other Horovitz shows and won the 2005 Jerry Bock Award for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre for ``Calvin Berger," which he worked on at the BMI Advanced Musical Theatre Workshop.

And the name Calvin Berger? ``Calvin is a little bit alternative," Wyner says. ``Maybe he's dorky. I was always picturing a skater boy, like the character on `The O.C.,' Seth Cohen, played by Adam Brody, although he doesn't have a big nose."

Through Sept. 17 at Gloucester Stage Company. Tickets: $30-$35. 978-281-4433.

New Rep, new stage
New Repertory Theatre is joining the Huntington and the American Repertory Theatre in having a second stage. Called Downstage @ New Rep, it will present three plays during the 2006-07 season: Will Eno's ``Thom Pain (based on nothing)," Sept. 30-Oct. 22; David Sedaris' s ``The Santaland Diaries," Dec. 21-31; and J.T. Rogers' s ``White People," March 10-April 1 at the Black Box at Arsenal Center for the Arts, in Watertown.

``It has long been part of our dream to be able to create an alternative series of works -- plays that are fundamentally different from the type of work we do on our main stage, yet are vital, compelling `New Rep' plays," producing artistic director Rick Lombardo said in a statement. ``And now in our new home, with its multiple performance spaces, that dream is realized." Tickets: $10-$25. 617-923-8487.

A reminder that ``Wicked" returns to the Opera House a year from now, September 2007, not 2006, as some believe. . . . Sandy Duncan stars in a concert version of ``Mame" at Barrington Stage Oct . 4-15 . . . . The world premiere of Charles Messina's ``Mercury: The Afterlife and Times of a Rock God," the one-man drama about the late Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen, is currently running at the Art House Theater in Provincetown through tomorrow . . . . The Gloucester Stage production of ``The Diary of Anne Frank," which was due to open this month, has been cancel ed because of scheduling conflicts.

Patience Cooper was an African-American woman in 19th-century Nantucket wrongfully convicted of killing a white shopkeeper. Robert Johnson Jr., a University of Massachusetts at Boston playwright and historian, came across court records of her trial and out of them has written a dramatization of her life, ``Patience of Nantucket." The world premier e of the show, presented by Up You Mighty Race, runs Thursday through Sept. 23 at Boston Center for the Arts. Akiba Abaka, one of Johnson's former students and now the artistic director of Up You Mighty Race, directs. Tickets: $12.50-$27. 617-983-8600.

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