The Rich Forum at the Stamford Center for the Arts
It was indeed the best and worst of times, when "Two Cities" opened at the Rich Forum this week. Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" has been turned into a new musical, with Sydney Carton, Lucie Manette, Charles Darnay and Madame Defarge all singing their hearts out. Dickens' melodramatic plot indeed lends itself to a musical format. Larger-than-life characters play out their destinies against the backdrop of the 1789 French revolution.
The best of times, because Matt Bogart is electrifying as Sydney Carton. Watching Bogart's dazzling performance, one understands what star power is all about. Not why it is, but what it is. In fact, the show moves to a new level as soon as Bogart comes on stage. Fortunately for him, Bogart works with a role that has considerable possibilities-a role which runs a gamut of personality traits. He changes from a hard-drinking cynic, to an inspired lover, to, ultimately, a martyr. The complex Carton is by far the most intriguing of the Dickens' characters offered in this classic tale. Others, unfortunately, tend to be one-dimensional.
And it is the best of times because of the show's direction, design work, and music. Director Lenore Shapiro and musical director Larry Pressgrove keep a firm hand on the proceedings, moving smoothly from scene to scene and interspersing story with song. Edward Pierce's sensitive lighting and understated set work very nicely for the piece. In particular, Pierce's large circle, which serves as backdrop, changes color as suited to the moment, turning blood red, for instance, for the killing scene. And the music of Chad Hardin and Dan Schillaci offers a wide variety of poignant and comic and haunting melodies.
But, alas, it is the worst of times, in far too many respects. First, the over-long show cries out for judicious pruning. Is it necessary for every featured character to have his solo song, his moment in the sun? It would seem so. And the first act, in particular, runs on too long. Sydney Carton, at the heart of the story, does not appear on stage until almost the close of that act. Too long to wait for the show's main event. Until that point, as the story slowly unfolds, production numbers and performances are adequate but ordinary. The drinking song, for example, never reaches the rousing level it should.
Moreover, the lyrics (again courtesy of Hardin and Schillaci), are banal. Too often, the writers stoop to such lines as, "Is it really true? Yes, it's really you." Casting is also uneven, with several of the featured players first-rate while others are amateurish.
Whatever its drawbacks, this new musical must be taken seriously-in terms of the subject matter and the considerable effort which obviously went into its evolution. One hopes that its creators go on to make changes for the better, as "Two Cities" continues its journey through the theater world.
-- Irene Backalenick
August 20, 2004