ASSOCIATED PRESS A TALE OF TWO CITIES REVIEW
A plodding musical version of 'A Tale of Two Cities' arrives on Broadway
By MICHAEL KUCHWARA, AP Drama Critic
NEW YORK (AP) _ Haven't we been here before? And in much better crafted company?
The ghosts of musicals past are floating through Broadway's Al Hirschfeld Theatre these days, crowding the stage where a plodding, perfunctory adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" has taken up residence.
The production, which opened Thursday, is a curious throwback, a return to the era of big British blockbusters such as "Les Miserables," ''The Phantom of the Opera" and "Miss Saigon" and their lesser American imitators, including "Jekyll & Hyde" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel." All of them — with varying degrees of success — are awash in sound and fury.
"Les Miz," of course, is the most obvious comparison. It, too, deals with Gallic revolution — although a different one from the turmoil that preoccupies Dickens' lengthy novel, which is set against the backdrop of France's Reign of Terror.
Broadway newcomer Jill Santoriello has provided not only the music but the book and lyrics for "A Tale of Two Cities." It's a heroic job of multitasking but her efforts stretch the show mighty thin — particularly in the music department, where faint echoes of "Les Miz" (by way of "American Idol") reverberate every now and then. These similarities are most noticeable in the show's spirited first-act finale which has the downtrodden citizens, ready for blood, lined up across the wide Hirschfeld stage.
Dickens' story is packed with plot, and Santoriello's condensation is necessarily sketchy. Which means the score has to provide the emotional wallop only hinted at in her book. Unfortunately, it doesn't. Despite the bombast, the melodies are wispy, almost anemic and the lyrics elemental and predictable. They will have you involuntarily completing the rhyme — and being right every time.
The paucity of strong songs puts an extra burden on the actors, but they ably meet the challenge. Chief among these performers is James Barbour, who portrays the dissolute Sidney Carton, the show's late-blooming hero. Barbour has one of those industrial-strength voices, perfectly suited for the kind of full-voiced pyrotechnics that are necessary for larger-than-life shows.
Barbour also possesses considerable stage presence, and he nicely accentuates his character's self-mockery. Humor is scarce in Santoriello's adaptation, confined mostly to lowlife characters and servants.
The genius of Dickens' novels comes from his specific characterizations, vivid portraits of people, good or bad, who are very real. His characters have been captured most effectively in the stage version of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby," co-directed, by the way, by Trevor Nunn, the man who also co-directed "Les Miserables."
In "Two Cities," Santoriello's creations are practically ciphers. She concentrates on the story's love triangle — Carton's unrequited love for the beautiful Lucie Manette who, in turns, marries the impossibly good Charles Darnay. Brandi Burkhardt plays the dewy ingenue while Aaron Lazar grimaces nobly as Darnay.
Her villains are cardboard creatures, too. Madame Defarge, that vengeful knitter who demands Darnay's death, doesn't get beyond snarling in stereotype. But then Natalie Toro, who plays Defarge, is saddled with one of the evening's worst songs, the modern-sounding "Out of Sight, Out of Mind."
Warren Carlyle, responsible for the show's direction as well as its minimal choreography, moves things along at a relentless pace. But the effect is wearying rather than exhilarating.
Even the sets are a letdown. If "Les Miz" has designer John Napier's gargantuan barricades and "Phantom of the Opera" was enhanced by Maria Bjornson's massive Paris Opera House set, "A Tale of Two Cities" is stuck with Tony Walton's spindly towers that look as if they are made of plywood, swirling in and out of the wings.
They are emblematic of what is wrong with the show, a pale imitation of all those big booming musicals that have gone before.
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