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A Tale of Two Cities … and love

Dickens’ classic story of class, revolution and redemption, gets the musical treatment in Singer’s Theatre production

It was the best of novels, it was the … best of plays? Gord Davis, director of A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical, hopes so.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
It was the best of novels, it was the … best of plays? Gord Davis, director of A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical, hopes so. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is one of the enduring masterpieces of literature – a timeless tale of love, death, class, and revolution in England and France, circa 1775. Its vivid dichotomy between the French peasantry and aristocracy has been evoked in relation to everything from the Boston Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street; its opening paradox, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” has become a cliché.

It’s also 135,420 words long, so be honest: have you read it?

“I admitted to the kids when we started, ‘I don’t think I’ve really read the whole novel!’” laughed Gord Davis, director of The Singer’s Theatre’s upcoming musical production of Dickens’ intimidating classic.

It’s true that for many of us, Dickens’ epic tome has become an epic paperweight, but the new production from the Kitchener-Waterloo community theatre group hopes to make the story more accessible. Doing for Dickens what the Les Miserables musical did for Victor Hugo, Jill Santoriello’s Broadway musical streamlines the sprawling text by highlighting its central love story.

“In my mind, it’s the most beautiful love story that could ever exist, because it’s about sacrificing your life for the person you love,” said musical director Amanda Brunk of Sydney Carton, the alcoholic lawyer who sacrifices himself for the upper-class Lucie Manette.

“The love that Sydney has for Lucie is unrequited, and he gives his life for her because she was the only person who ever just saw good in him. She never loved him back, they didn’t have a relationship – he sacrifices himself for her happiness because he’s a good person. That’s so different and unique.”

“Not a lot of people give up their lives for other people,” added Davis. “It’s that kind of unconditional love that is still needed. ‘Wow – this man actually is not thinking of himself. He’s thinking of Lucie.’ He loves her so much and he wants her to be happy.”

Yes, for all its attempts to encapsulate class disparity and the spirit of revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is, at its heart, a big ol’ love story. As such, it’s surprisingly adaptable into a musical spectacular.

“It’s actually very similar to Les Miserables in the same way that the Hugo story works so well with dramatic music,” said Brunk.

“This particular score, much like Les Mis, requires different voices – the ingénue character is a very high soprano, and there’s also a character who has a big, high, belty role, and has to do some very difficult music. With the men, there are a lot of male singers that have to sing high tenor parts, but they still have to be rich in tone and have to be beautifully sung.”

Added Davis, “There are also the stronger, bigger scenes where you get the storming of the Bastille and the trials, that kind of thing where music can really enhance and make stronger all those emotions.”

Fortunately, Davis and Brunk have found the show’s 49-member cast, ages 14-24, to be more than up to the challenging task.

“We happen to have an incredible cast of singers who are well trained, and are just pulling off the music beautifully,” marveled Brunk. “It’s amazing how much talent we have here. The young people really know what they’re doing, and a lot of them have been studying for many years, and in our cast we have several kids who have worked professionally already in their lives.”

The Singer’s Theatre production of A Tale of Two Cities will mark the show’s Canadian premiere, after a Broadway run in 2008. The show runs August 16-17 at 7:30 p.m., and August 18 at 2 p.m. at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts in Kitchener (36 King St. W.). Tickets are $21, and can be purchased at ticketscene.ca.

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