AM NEW YORK A TALE OF TWO CITIES REVIEW
'Tale of Two Cities' features James Barbour and little else
By Matt Windman
The pre-Broadway buzz surrounding "A Tale of Two Cities" had nothing to do with Charles Dickens. Its lead actor, James Barbour, got caught up in a sticky, scandalous legal quagmire that we'd rather not describe yet again. But regardless of his controversial and criminal past, Barbour is the best asset of this otherwise awful musical.
As Sydney Carton, the drunk, dissolute lawyer who sacrifices his head on the guillotine, Barbour displays matinee idol showmanship and a genuine flair for old-fashioned melodrama. Even if it is not a deep or complex performance, the dark and mysterious presence that he projects is truly winning.
The musical itself, which Jill Santioriello developed over the course of two decades, is no more than a dull, dusty rip-off of "Les Miz." Even the show's lead producers are acting alumni of "Les Miz."
Structurally, Act One is a mad overdose of exposition, multiple storylines and constant movement. Act Two, where the plot narrowly focuses on the fate of Charles Darnay after the French Revolution begins, is far more streamlined and watchable. Meanwhile, every song is vapid and instantly forgettable.
Besides Barbour, no one in the cast makes a lasting impression. Even the talented Aaron Lazar is wasted in the lame, tame role of Darnay. If not much else, Natalie Toro manages to suggest that Madame Defarge is the equivalent of a modern-day terrorist.
On the positive side, Warren Carlyle's staging is fairly competent and the production values are impressive. Tony Walton's set consists of two-story structures that are pulled apart and wheeled across the stage. A giant blade even slices through the backdrop at the end. Had this not been a musical, the show might have actually worked as pure spectacle.
To be frank, clicking your heels and wishing to emulate the success of "Les Miz" and "Oliver" is not acceptable. Ms. Santoriello's songwriting lacks even the empty sizzle of a Frank Wildhorn show like "Jekyll and Hyde. Maybe she needs to work on the show for another two or three decades!
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