If you'll recall, I directed a fabulous show for ELOPE last season and this past weekend I took a drive out to Festival Place in Sherwood Park to see what they had up on offer this season. Due to the size and scope of the production, ELOPE and Sherard undertook co-producing the Western Canadian Premiere of the Broadway musical A Tale of Two Cities by Jill Santoriello. As I expected, knowing the standards of Music Director Sally Hunt, the music was excellent. It's a sweeping epic score to match the story and the cast, in particular the leads, were well equipped to handle it. I heard quite a few people I had never heard before and was very impressed. I hope I get to work with them in future. Todd Hauck, as Sydney Carton, was a particular standout vocally, and although sometimes I felt that Santoriello's score included unnecessary songs that added little to the narrative or emotional journey of the character, they were gorgeous to hear as sung by Hauck. Also enjoyable were Molly Danko as Lucie Manette and Justin Kautz as Charles Danay. They made for a lovely couple. I also quite enjoyed Brad Bishop as the resurrectionist Jerry Cruncher and Randy Brososky as John Brasad. I hadn't know that Randy could sing, having only seen him in non-musicals previously, and it was a nice surprise as he not only could sing, but could sing well. Both Brad and Randy gave polished performances that always picked up the energy which occasionally flagged in the 3 hour long show. The villains were villains and the heroes were heroes and the sweeping saga was supported by an earnest and committed ensemble.
I did have some challenges with the production, primarily with regards to set and some odd directorial choices. The costumes, by designer Patti Zeglen, were wonderfully detailed and seemed to do most of the work to create the world. For a show this epic in scope, however, the set seemed too simple and bare. Although the hanging rope cones and accompanying round discs were interesting, they failed to really fill the stage. Perhaps if there were some more architectural pieces to ground the world and allow the cast to use more levels on the deck it would have worked for me, but it felt odd to have actors sitting low to or actually on the floor. I also didn't get the crawling that the cast engaged in to transaction from scene to scene and move the set. It was clear to me that the ensemble was crawling around the stage purposefully and as a result of direction, but it did little to make me think they were in 1770s France and England. It just didn't work for me. I do appreciate a production taking a risk, however, in this case, I do not think it served the piece.
I was able to over-look it, and enjoy the show. The singing and commitment of the performers onstage was enough to keep me engaged. There are some wonderful voices in this show and if you have the chance you should check it out. A Tale of Two Cities runs until March 8th at Festival Place.
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