Flashback Friday: ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ lends music to the best of times, the worst of times


A Tale of Two Cities is a wonderful musical based on the book of the same name by Charles Dickens.

The short-lived Broadway run lasted a whopping 72 performances in the fall of 2008. This show had a few things working against it: namely the 2008 stock market crash that caused an enormous recession from which the nation is still recovering, on top of undeservedly bad reviews, and material that is strikingly similar to other literature-adapted musicals of the time period.

Critics groaned and bleated about the parallels between Les Miserables and A Tale of Two Cities. On a very general scale they might have been right. Both plots revolve around a man looking to change the direction of his life and find redemption amidst the tumultuous rebellion-filled atmosphere of France.  However, anyone who has ever read either of the books know that the stories are, indeed, different, especially regarding the setting. Tale takes place during the French Revolution – guillotines, citizens, and the whole nine yards. Les Miserables, on the other hand, takes place long after the initial Revolution, during a student uprising in the 1820s that has drastically different politics than the flagship rebellion.


Kevin Early as Monsieur DeFarge

A brief breakdown of the show for those of you who were never required to read the book in high school: The two cities in question are the contently settled city of London and the politically frayed city of Paris. English orphan, Lucy Manette, (played by the quintessential beauty Brandi Burkhardt) discovers her long-lost grandfather, Dr. Mannette (Gregg Edelmann), trapped in tower of the Bastille, where he has been imprisoned for several years. Charles Darnay (portrayed by the effortlessly talented Aaron Lazar) is fleeing France to escape his terrible uncle, the Marquis St. Evermonde, and the evil that surrounds him. Monsieur and Madame DeFarge (Kevin Early and Natalie Toro respectively) spark the rebellion after a neighborhood child is run down by a careless carriage belonging to the Marquis. John Barsad (Nick Wyman) and Jerry Cruncher (Craig Bennett) are along for the ride and provide most of the comedic moments of the show. Charles Darnay and Lucy Manette fall in love, but Sydney Carton’s unrequited love for Lucy causes him to make the ultimate sacrifice for her.


Brandi Burkhardt as Lucy Manette & James Barbour as Sydney Carton

James Barbour starred as the drunken, sullen, hides-sadness-and-lonliness-with-wit lawyer, Sydney Carton. He truly embodied this character and allowed the audience to take his Captain Jack Sparrow-like journey with him every single performance. If you haven’t listened to the power ballad “I Can’t Recall”, then I highly suggest you pause this reading and grace your ears.


James Barbour

Jill Santoriello, the composer, lyricist, and writer of the show artfully adapts the classic novel to the stage, embellishing and capturing the essence of characters that have been trapped on a page for 150 years. For being an epic tragedy, the script maintains some light-hearted moments and even humor that only make the courageous and harrowing end more cathartic. I wept all 6 times I saw it.  Seriously, if you ever want to make me cry, all you have to do is play a series of slow, ascending chords whilst declaring “It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

The themes of love, sacrifice, right vs. wrong, redemption, and goodness are still relevant today and with different societal circumstances, I think the show would have stood a much better chance. The show appeals to lovers of literature, school groups who have read the book and are looking for an enhanced understanding, fans of history and anyone who loves an epic musical.

Even though the Broadway engagement was cut short, the show has been well-received around the world with premieres in Korea, Ireland, Japan. The show was also taped in a concert style in Brighton, England and aired on PBS. James Barbour, Brandi Burkhardt, Kevin Early, and Natalie Toro reprise their roles, but the taping cut several numbers and scenes, leaving a lot to be desired in the way of a complete recording. However, it is better than nothing and I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope that one day it will be revived!


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2 Responses

  1. WOW! I love Flashback Friday, for I too, was a HUGE fan of the short-lived show. I totally agree with everything you said, and I did pause to hear James Barbour midstream. What a treat! I had not seen any of the concert version, so a clear, unbootlegged “I Can’t Recall” is just pure heaven!! …my allergies must be acting up…I need a tissue :)