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.