Saturday, March 05, 2011

Reivew - A Tale of Two Cities (the musical)

My wife and I just returned from seeing A Tale of Two Cities over at Hale Centre Theatre. When I saw this play on their upcoming season, I really wanted to see it. I'd recently read the book and loved it and was hopeful that the play would be as engaging and entertaining. Generally speaking, it was.

Taking such a huge novel as Tale of Two Cities and turning it into a 3 hour play has got to be a difficult task. As an interesting added bonus at our showing of the play, the author of the Book(Script...not the novel...that would be Charles Dickens, of course), Music and Lyrics, Jill Santoriello, was attending the show along with her Broadway producer. As such, we got a brief introduction to the show's trip to Broadway amid the economic recession. Jill Santoriello had a vision for a Broadway show and tirelessly worked to write the entire script and the music and lyrics herself. On the recorded soundtrack, it mentions some collaboration with Frank Wildhorn on one of the songs (which is cool, as Wildhorn does some great stuff), but otherwise, it looks as though this was a work of passion on behalf of a single person for many years. And her work paid off.

As per usual, I was highly impressed by the amazing production value that Hale Centre brings to their shows. The sets were amazing and I'm constantly amazed at how much they manage to accomplish so much in such a small area. The stage itself isn't very large but it has an amazing fly system with fabulous hydrolics/lifts/turntables/more that allow for very rapid scene changes as well as great use of movement and layered stage elements to provide added depth and motion to every scene. I absolutely love what Hale is able to do with their stage.

In addition to the great stage and set, the casting tonight was great. Sidney Carlton definitely steals the story and he was very well cast to be (at least from our point of view) the most powerful and relatable character. The Saturday cast Sidney has a fabulous voice and a great stage presence. The other major characters (Darnay, Lucie, Cruncher, the Defarges, Lorry, Pross, and Barsad) were equally fabulous. Even the young kids did a wonderful job.

The script had some great writing that had the crowd laughing frequently through the first few acts. Laughs continued to come as the show drew to a close, but the more serious and somber nature of the story tended to muffle some of the laughter. The jokes were well presented and the interactions between characters were quick and witty and a lot of fun.

The music and audio were also great. I'm not sure if we were sitting beneath a speaker or what, but there were times where it felt like the music was overwhelming the singing, which was troublesome at times. There also seemed to be too many "sustained high notes" which are great generally, but distracting to me en force. The music was good, powerful and really stirred the emotions...which is a great reason to bring music to a story like this. Sadly, a lot of the musical numbers were a little forgettable to me. I'll have to listen to them again and see if they catch on a bit more, but as we left the show, there wasn't any tune humming our way to the car or anything. There were a few great musical themes for some of the characters, which were a lot of fun. And I loved the powerful emotions envoked during the numbers with the Defarges and other points of the Revolution. So I really felt like the music/songs did a great job with what it was doing, but I would have liked something that stuck with me more afterward. Again, I'll listen to the tunes again to see if something grips me more now.

Overall, this was a fabulous play. I absolutely love this story. It has SOOOOO much going on and so much power and emotion. Seeing it brought to stage was wonderful. Naturally, there were some elements which had to be somewhat glossed over or modified in order to fit into a 3-hour stage presentation, but I still really feel like the heart of the story and its themes was well presented and is a worthy adaptation.

I definitely compliment Jill Santoriello for undertaking an enormous task of bringing this novel to the stage and doing so in such a complete, powerful and stirring way. I also give high kudos to Hale Centre Theatre for a fun, engrossing and truly thrilling production. Thank you for a wonderful night.

4 out of 5 stars

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