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A CurtainUp Review
A Tale of Two Cities, a CurtainUp Musical review
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received,
for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face , on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.
— Charles Dickens
In the currently storm tossed financial world, $16 million wouldn't begin to keep even one of its sinking ships afloat. But that sum, raised by close to twenty producers, has fulfilled Broadway newcomer Jill Santoriello's twenty-year long dream of bringing Charles Dickens' novel about the French revolution to the stage. It's good news for the op-rical enthusiasts who flocked to Les Miz, the musical epic based on Victor Hugo's novel, though it remains to be seen if the more than slight copycat elements of the new show will be a box office plus or minus.
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
This musicalized take on Dickens' eloquently compelling tale about the French revolution is best known for its first twelve words —("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . ." If I had just twelve words to sum it up: Fair enough adaptation, dashing, strong-voiced hero, eye-popping stagecraft, unmemorable Les-Miz-y score.
Obviously, there's more to say about a two and a half hour musical based on a book that's on many high school reading lists and in a genre that is considered by many to have had its day. For starters, there's Ms. Santoriello's refocusing the spotlight on the dissolute Sidney Carton.
The musical not only has Carton making the ultimate sacrifice of taking Charles Darnay's place as #23 to step up to the guillotine, but he becomes sort of a housefreund to Lucie and Charles, and a kindly uncle to their little girl (at one point even kneeling down with her for her bed time prayers). Given that James Barbour plays Carton, why not? Barbour is a man who seems born to lend his acting skills, dashing good looks and rich baritone to difficult to musicalize classics. (He was a fine Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre). Except for the excessively sentimental guillotine scene that has a saintly Carton sustain a condemned seamstress in her (and his) final hour, Barbour is a hero who can melt even the most resistant to kitschy sentiment heart, and he makes even the most treacly songs seem infinitely better than they are. If A Tale of Two Cities proves to be a critic-proof hit and survives the lack of a lyrical anthem like "Do You Hear the People Sing?" it will be in no small measure due to Barbour's charismatic performance.
Naturally, a magnetic hero deserves a heroine worth worthy of loving and laying down one's life for. Brandi Burkhardt, is certainly pretty and has a lovely soprano. But the dominating female performance is that of the unrelentingly vengeful Madame Defarge , another character who has been magnified for this show— a decision that allows Natalie Toro to practically breathe fire. The click-click-click of her knitting needles is at one point ramped up by also showing the women of Paris as knitters.
For the most part, Santoriello's book follows Dickens' plot and even those who are unfamiliar with the book will have no difficulty keeping the many characters sorted out and understanding what's going on. Several of the actors playing other major characters have gotten their pop-eretta feet wet in Les Miz, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera. Aaron Lazar, who played Enjolaras in the recent second coming of Les Miz, is well suited to the role of Charles Darnay, the idealistic young aristocrat who rejects his family heritage, only to find himself forced back to Paris in the heat of the revolution. Greg Edelman, who's done a turn as the nasty Javert, gets to shine as the more benign Dr. Manette. Nick Wyman once again demonstrates his flair for musical epics as Basard.
As Santoriello condenses much of the action, so director-choreographer Warren Carlyle deftly fast forwards events, at one point having Miss Pross (the excellent Katherine McGrath), Little Lucie's (Catherine Missal) caretaker take the child's hand and swing her around like a dancing top. As if by magic, this little dance transforms little Lucie into big Lucie. Carlyle has even added a touch of Julie Taymor with an eerie dance sequence for a group of masked revolutionaries.
An abstract touch, via a group of masked revolutionaries.
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
If Tony Walton's scenery (most effectively lit throughout by Richard Pilbrow) at first looks more like Rent than LeMiz, hold on. That scaffolding turns and turns, each swivel of this carousel bringing another group of people yearning for a better tomorrow (and yes there is a rousing first act finale number entitled "Until Tomorrow" ). Freedom lovers in both London and Paris are given a chance to express their yearnings for a brighter with "The Way It Ought To Be." But don't ask me to hum even a single riff from any of these anthemic songs. It's the unmemorability of the score, that is more likely to have the show made fun of than praised. (It's already part of latest and last Forbidden Broadway revue, with Gina Kreiezmar as Madame Defarge singing " It was the best of times/On secon thought it was the worst of times/No, it's the best worst show;") But "best worst shows" have had solid runs before and the premiere production of Tale, even before the latest round of diddling, sold out during its premiere at Asolo Repertory Theater in Sarasota, FL).
The staging, (probably purposely so) may be derivative but in a world where everything and everyone is being downsized, there's something irresistible about its grandiosity. Being a sucker for heroic romances, I can't say I found myself doing frequent watch checks. After all, who can't take some pleasure in a passionately sung cry for "the world the way it ought to be?"
A TALE OF TWO CITIES|
Book, music and lyrics by Jill Santoriello based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle
Cast: (in order of appearance: Gregg Edelman (Dr. Alexandre Manette ), Catherine Missal (Little Lucie), Les Minski (Marquis St. Evremonde), Michael Hayward-Jones (Mr. Jarvis Lorry ), Katherine McGrath (Miss Pross ), Brandi Burkhardt (Lucie Manette), Craig Bennett (Jerry Cruncher), Natalie Toro (Madame Therese Defarge), Kevin Earley (Ernest Defarge), Michael Halling (Gaspard ), Miles Kath (Little Gaspard ), Mackenzie Mauzy (Seamstress ), Kevin Greene (Gabellc), Aaron Lazar (Charles Darnay), Nick Wyman (John Barsad), James Barbour (Sydney Carton), Fred Inkley (Stryver), William Thomas Evans (Attorney General ), James Moye (English Judge), Tim Hartman, Walter Winston O'Neil (Cronies ), Raymond Jaramillo McLeod (French President ), Drew Aber (The Young Man) Jay Lusteck (Turnkey), Devin Richards (Number Keeper)
Ensemble: Drew Aber, Catherine Brunhll, Alison Cimmet, William Thomas Evans, Kevin Greene. Michael Halling. Tim Hartman, Fred Inkley. George JamesS, Jay Lusteck, Mackenzie Mauzy, Raymond Jaramillo McLeod, James Moye, Walter Winston O'Neill, Dan Petrottaa, Devin Richards. Rob Richardson, Rebecca Robbins, Jennifer Smith, Anne Tolpegin, Molie Volt-Welch, Alison Walla
Set designer: Tony Walton
Costume designer David Zinn
Lighting designer: Richard Pilbrow
Hair design: Tom Watson
Sound designers: Carl Casella and Domonic Sack
Orchestrations & arrangements: Edward B. Kessel
Musical Arrangements: Bob Krogstad, Wendy Bobbitt Cavett,Kevin Stites
Music Supervision and Arrangement: Kevin Stites
Special Effects Design: Gregory Meeh
Fight director: Michael Rossmy
Music Coordinator: James Neglia
Stage Manager: Kim Vernace
Running Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, includes one intermission
Hirschfeld Theatre, West 45th Street
From 8/19/08; opening 9/18/08.
- Prologue: The Shadows, of the Night/Dr. Manette, Lucie
The Way It Ought to Be/Madame, Ernest, Men and Women oi Paris
You'll Never Be Alone/ Dr. Manette, Lucie
Argument /Marquis, Charles
Dover/ Sailors. Miss Pross. Crunchcr
The Way It Ought to Be Sydney
No Honest Way/ Barsad, Cruncher. Sydney, Scoundrels
The Trial / Attorney General, Stryver, Cruncher, Barsad, Sydney, Crowd
Round and Round/ Tavern Folk
The Way It Ought to Be (Reprise) / Madame
Letter From Uncle/ Marquis
The Promise/ Dr. Manette. Charles
I Can't Recall/ Sydney
Now at Last/ Charles, Lucie
If Dreams Came True / Charles, Sydney
Out of Sight, Out of Mind/Madame
I Always Knew /GabeIle, Charles
Little One/ Gaspard, Little Lucie, Sydney, Ernest, Men
Until Tomorrow/Ernest, Madame, Sydney, Men and Women of Paris
Everything Stays the Same/Madame, Ernest, Men and Women of Paris
No Honest Way (Reprise) / Barsad
The Tale/ Madame, Dr. Mancttc, Young Man, Marquis, Crowd
If Dreams Came True (Reprise) / Sydney
Without a Word/ Charles, Lucie
The Bluff /Sydney, Barsad
Let Her Be a Child/ Sydney, Little Lucie, Charles
The Letter / Sydney
Finale: I Can't Recall/ Seamstress, Sydney, Men and Women
In the Heights
Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide