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picture - A Tale of Two CitiesTheater Review

by Chad Menville

published September 26, 2008

 

A Tale of Two Cities

now playing on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre

open run

 

Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, one of the most widely read novels, is essentially about resurrection and spirituality through the hope of renewal. Our story begins in 1775 France. Inflation is out of control and an oppressive social system has resulted in injustices. The English and French monarchs – George III and Louis XVI seem indifferent to the plight of their people (sound familiar?). Though not as humorous as his other works, it remains Dickens' most tightly-constructed novel. It was a study in the interaction between individuals and society and his mission was to convey to his readers the dangers of a possible revolution.

 

In the new Broadway musical version, the book, music and lyrics are by the gifted newcomer, Jill Santoriello. An extremely condensed retelling, Santoriello has been working on the production for twenty-two years(!). For unknown reasons, she has refrained from familiarizing herself with Dickens' other works. Even so, she has a firm grasp on Dickensian speech. As for the thirty musical numbers she composed, the melodies are always lovely yet the lyrical content tends to play “catch up” with the plot. The setting spans two countries – France and England – and a 6 ½ year timeline. And it is known as the least Dickensian novel for the reason that he built a play upon plot rather than dialogue.

 

Director and choreographer Warren Carlyle lends his expertise. In addition, you will see several Les Miz alums. Set designer Tony Walton has come up with a curious series of scaffolding Olafur Eliasson would be proud of. Costumes are designed by David Zinn and hair design is by Tom Watson (come to think of it, I hadn't seen so many wigs since a Burt Reynolds demo reel). Also noteworthy is Richard Pilbrow's lighting design, which reportedly employs over 1,300 channels of lighting control. He has changed the craft and technique of stage lighting to a simpler, more intuitive method that gently differentiates the scene changes between Paris and London.

 

The acting is strong and each character is fully developed, except for the character of Doctor Alexandre Manette, who is much more complex in Dickens' original version. The singing is the highlight, especially in the case of James Barbour's bass-baritone that reduces old ladies to screaming tweens. As the drunken cynic and unlikely hero, he is the undisputable highlight. As for the other characters, it was difficult to be emotionally invested and so made little difference who was sent to the guillotine. Why not stay home and read the original? Now there's a novel idea.

 

chadmenville @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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