Accessibility of the arts is one of my favourite topics to discuss, and it can be a good context to use in determining whether or not a performance accomplished its objectives. In a time of declining audience sizes, I think it’s important to examine performances from an accessibility standpoint. For theatre, that could mean the venue’s location, the script’s assumptions about the audience’s existing knowledge, the different techniques the actors and technical designers use to communicate the story… you get the idea.
Audience accessibility was one of the reasons I was so excited about ELOPE Musical Theatre’s presentation of the award-winning A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical, written by Jill Santoriello. I’ll admit it – I’ve picked up the novel the musical is based on, opened to the first page and read “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” … and didn’t get much further than that. Dickens may have been a literary genius, but he wrote for another time. When I heard of A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical I was excited at the prospect of a more enjoyable way to engage with the story. I hoped the musical would in turn make the novel more accessible to read – or maybe the musical would be so good that I wouldn’t need to read the book at all.
While it was witty and funny, A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical fell a bit flat for me. Reading a plot summary of the novel before the show was greatly helpful, but I still found there were a few parts of the plot that I didn’t quite get, or wouldn’t have gotten without reading the plot summary. I also felt there were gaps in Timothy J. Anderson’s direction – blocking that didn’t make sense for the scene, a lack of appeal to the highly emotional aspect of the story, and scene changes done by having the actors playing the peasants crawl across the stage, which worked on a conceptual level, but drew far too much attention during the production.
The bright spot in this production was the casting of the lead actors, all of whom were great vocalists, especially Todd Hauk (Sydney Carton), Justin Kautz (Charles Darnay), and Molly Danko (Lucie Manette). I’d certainly look forward to seeing what these actors, as well as some of the others in the production, can do in other shows.
A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical shows at Festival Place in Sherwood Park February 27 – March 8 and is co-presented by ELOPE Musical Theatre and Sherard Musical Theatre. Tickets are $22.50 – $27.50 and can be bought through Ticketmaster or the Festival Place Box Office.
– Jenna Marynowski