A Tale of Two Cities

WHERE THERE'S A QUILL, THERE'S A WAY Barbour, standing, dictates a letter to Lazar.

WHERE THERE'S A QUILL, THERE'S A WAY Barbour, standing, dictates a letter to Lazar. Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5

Well, it sure wasn’t the best of times, but Lord knows we’ve seen worse. The main surprise for Rialto flop watchers is the extent to which A Tale of Two Cities—the bombastic tuner by neophyte Jill Santoriello—doesn’t stink like month-old Camembert. While Santoriello really should have outsourced one of the writing tasks to a canny pro, she left the staging and choreography to Warren Carlyle. The resourceful director, buttressed by set wizard Tony Walton and a solid cast, strives respectably in the kind of earnest but extremely derivative ’80s-style spectacle that was supposed to have died with Les Misérables.

Mention of that long-running (and recently revived) blockbuster is unavoidable, since so much of Santoriello’s score sounds like it was composed on tracing paper. Instead of the bouncy “Master of the House,” we get the rollicking thieves’ ditty “No Honest Way.” In place of the Act I anthemic finale “One Day More,” there’s the equally march-friendly first-act closer “Until Tomorrow.”

Charles Dickens’s epic tearjerker gets condensed well enough, and there’s talent here—starting with James Barbour as self-loathing drunkard–turned–lovelorn martyr Sydney Carton. Nick Wyman milks every last bit of comic business as the blackguard Barsad. And the glowing ingenue Brandi Burkhardt is a worthy object of both Sydney’s love and the devotion of heroic French aristocrat Charles Darnay (the stiff but serviceable Aaron Lazar). But there’s no revolution going on here, simply a feeble recurrence of the ancien régime.

Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Book, music and lyrics by Jill Santoriello. Dir. Warren Carlyle. With James Barbour, Brandi Burkhardt, Aaron Lazar. 2hrs 35mins. One intermission.