The first big musical of the new season A Tale of Two Cities based on the classic 1859 Charles Dickens novel opened at the Al Hirshfeld Theatre. The rousing pop opera, inventively designed by Tony Walton, makes a handsome showcase for some of the most gifted voices on Broadway. The staging of the compelling love story, told against the backdrop of the gritty French Revolution, is a bold attempt to recreate the heart stirring emotions of Les Miserables. If the musical is not always successful at recapturing the sweeping thrill of Les Miserables, the creators and cast have tapped into the universal appeal of the well read Dickens’ story that has sold over 200 million copies around the world.
The book, lyrics and music are by Jill Santoriello a Broadway novice, who has been retooling the project for 20 years. She manages to cram many details from the massive plot into the evening with only a few alterations, by distilling the action to the romantic triangle at the center of the historical novel. The characterizations are not fully developed so the basis of the appeal here is the heart wrenching story told through stirring songs, which are evocative of that other revolutionary tale.
The director/choreographer is Warren Carlyle, who is recreating his musical staging from Florida’s Asolo Repertory Theatre, where the show was a big hit. The entertaining evening unfortunately lacks inspiration. The glue that is intended to keep the musical together, even allow it to soar, is the music, which feels like a lovely attempt to clone Les Mis. All very nice, indeed, and if you are a softie expect to be moved.
The design team headed by the 3 time Tony Award winning set designer Tony Walton lifts the evening with impressive work. Walton’s ingenious bare bones set with curved shapes are like the framing for multi-level houses. Dominated by a dynamic ever changing backdrop, the forms twist and turn transforming with just the barest of props into a French chateau, a ship crossing the channel to London, and even the Bastille. David Zinn’s costumes are a stylish compliment and Richard Pilbrow’s high tech computerized lighting is artistically lush.
The stars of the evening are the glorious voices of the talented performers.
We attended the final preview before opening night, when Michael Halling, who was moving, filled in for the always fabulous Aaron Lazr as the suave Charles Darnay. Brandi Burkhardt, a former Miss New York making her Broadway debut, sings beautifully as Lucie Manette, the woman at the center of the love triange. But James Barbour, a tremendous baritone, is charismatic as the rascal Sydney Carton, the attorney who gives his life for the two lovers. He steels the evening with the kind of narcissistic self aware performance that is great fun to witness and he makes the most of his every moment on stage, especially his final dramatic assent to the guillotine.
By: Gordin & Christiano
A Tale of Two Cities opened on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues, on September 18, 2008. Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200 or 1-800-432-7250 or visit TELECHARGE.COM