A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities
So you want a revolution? Technically, you’ll find one here. It has the angry people, the obligatory song or two about freedom, and a few gunshots. Sadly, however, it is lacking in many requirements for a revolution, such as fire, passion, and believable conflict that inspires action.
Charles Dickens’ classic story A Tale of Two Cities has come to Broadway, but it seems to have forgotten something along the way. It has all of the elements of a successful transfer to the stage –a powerful love story, a revolution started by sympathetic underdogs, an unlikely hero and a beautiful setting. But, to quote the language of one of the two cities, the je nai se quai is missing.
The book, music and lyrics were written by Jill Santoriello, a labor of love that lasted for more than two decades. The author has remained remarkably faithful to the book’s story, with only a few minor adjustments made to adapt the lengthy book to the two-hour musical. The set, designed by Tony Walton, consists of large structures that easily move to create the numerous set changes, such as a home, a bar or the Bastille.
In the effort to maintain the many plots and sub-plots of the story, however, the characters get lost in the shuffle. They are elaborately costumed and equipped with strong, soaring voices; however, they seem more like paper dolls than real flesh and blood.
The happy exception to that rule is the character of Syndey Carton, played with mournful eloquence by James Barbour. A drunken lawyer turned unexpected romantic hero, Carton is given the most laughable lines and most tear-jerking ballads of the show. He has been given at least two soaring numbers describing his aspirations of to be a better a man and earn the love of Lucie Manette. Barbour’s rich, vibrant voice reaches the rafters of the theater, and the depth of his love for Lucie, as well as his disgust for himself, is actually believable.
Although the songs and script attempt to demonstrate the blurred moral complexity of the story, the confusions and complications which were outlined in such a fascinating manner in the book, are glossed over and simplified onstage. Madame Defarge, who was a fascinating character who inspired both pity and disgust, is simplified and minimized in this musical. Natalie Toro puts forth a valiant effort, scowling and snarling as well as singing the angry number, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” but the character written in a dumbed-down manner that does not do Dickens’ creation justice, and the song appears to be more suited for American Idol than a Broadway adaptation of classic literature.
Much of the cast are alumni from Les Miserables, and while comparisons of this musical to that one seem unfair, they are also inevitable. Dr. Manette, the wise old man who was unfairly imprisoned and loves his daughter too much, played by Gregg Edelman, is sweet and kind and not much else. Lucie, the daughter who can save her father with love and who shares in a tragic romantic love triangle, is played by Brandi Burkhardt. She has a few trilling melodies and some lovely gowns. Her lover, Charles Darnay, was played by Michael Halling at this performance, is brave and strong and good. But none of these characters inspire true sympathy, or true outrage, which were the two most compelling emotions motivated by the book.
During every moment, throughout every song, it is painfully obvious how hard this musical is trying. Sadly, the intense, almost brutal, sincerity of the show is not enough to redeem it. Those looking for a revolution should go to another city.