Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

By the time I got to the Hirschfeld Theatre Wednesday night I didn’t know what to expect. Two friends had raved about this show, but then I ran into two fellow critics who had seen it and they both panned it. I thought I might fall somewhere in between. Well, I didn’t. I LOVED it. I want to go again!

Lyric and production-wise, it’s not the most original or inspired musical -- except, that is, inspired by Les Miz -- but as for entertainment, A Tale of Two Cities is one of the best musicals on Broadway.

Much of the credit for its success lies with James Barbour, who is magnetic as Sydney Carton, the cynical, drunken lawyer turned self-sacrificing hero. Carton is such an intriguing bloke in the canon of great Dickens characters anyway, and Barbour captures him fully through his nuanced acting and with his powerful voice. All of the cast members are good, but Barbour is the standout.

Director/choreographer Warren Carlyle maintains a fast pace, which is important because many shows that clock in at two and a half hours have spots that drag. Two Cities never drags, although it doesn’t make the mistake of The Color Purple, which felt as if someone were holding down the fast forward button. Jill Santoriello, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, has created songs that move the plot along as needed or stop it with the power of the emotion. I did feel a little déjà vu with “Until Tomorrow,” which proclaims the hope of the masses -- “It won’t be long until tomorrow is today” -- that could have been interchanged with Les Miz’s hope of the masses, “One Day More” -- “Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in heaven has in store. One more day, one day more.” Those 18th century French rebels all seem to think alike!

David Zinn has fashioned evocative costumes, with gorgeous gowns for Lucie, handsome Victorian fare for the gentlemen and appropriate tatters for the peasants. The vividness of the costumes standouts against the simplicity of Tony Walton’s rolling sets.

No discussion of A Tale of Two Cities would be complete without mentioning the conclusion. The scene with the little seamstress is quite moving, with Mackenzie Mauzy making her Broadway debut in the role. And then, what we’ve been waiting for -- “far, far better,” which is given its full dramatic due. As Carton heads to the guillotine, which is at the top of a flight of stairs stage left, the stairs turn toward the audience and the rest of the stage is darkened. Carton climbs, in full spotlight, to utter one of the most famous quotes in English literature. It’s a true Broadway moment.

I don’t remember when a new musical has had as much advance trumpeting as this one has, especially considering the novice nature of its author. This is Santoriello’s first musical creation, and one that the self-taught musician spent 22 years developing. I don’t know if she has another show up her sleeves, but I hope she enjoys a long run with this one.


Tale of Two Cities Musical said...

I thought you might be interested in another “Tale of Two Cities Musical” that is wending it's way to Broadway (Perhaps via Boston). This one has a distinctively low budget so far but a very singable score and an engaging book. You might want to check out some of the songs.

Alberto said...

I found this show to be particularly in tune with the present times and a total inspiration to get through hardship.
Barbour as Sidney is amazing, both as a singer and a very expressive actor. He is the definite star of the show, but the supporting cast is quiet good too: Burkhardt is a natural radiant beauty as Lucie Manette and to see her wearing a succession of beautiful 18th Century costumes is by itself worth the ticket price. Les Minski as the sadistic Marquis St Evremonde and Natalie Toro as the revenge-crazed Mme DeFarge stand at the opposite ends of the social spectrum, yet are united in their sincere projection of hate, the gunpowder of any revolution. Craig Bennett was great depicting a brutal yet good hearted bloke while Katherine McGrath and Hayward Jones were a great study in British conventions and emotional repression.
Overall the show is great fun, it definitely takes you there and the sets were particularly good, providing two more stars: The elaborate, plumed carriage of the Marquis that effectively stands out against the misery of the streets and the very original and scary depictions of the guillotine that highlight the terror of the executions, where just going up the stairs can make even the most ordinary human being look like a hero.

JAS said...

Hi Retta,
I'm the writer of the "Tale of Two Cities" musical and just wanted to say thank you for your very nice review! I also really enjoy your writing in general (especially the view from overseas piece from a couple of days ago)

If you still would like to come see the show again please email me at
Thanks and take care!