Tuesday, 7 October 2008

THOUGHTS: "A Tale of Two Cities"

(When the backlog gets big, the RZ gets to the point.)

No, the RZ hasn't made a journey to see the critically-slammed megamusical currently running on Broadway. This OTHER version of the classic novel, running at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, is the brainchild of David Pomeranz (score), Steven David Horwich (Book/Lyrics) and David “I wrote the part of Time everybody hated” Soames (Book) manages to do what the big bad Broadway edition couldn’t: condense Dickens’s epic into a svelte 2:40 (with interval) without sacrificing characterisation or major events in the plot.

Director and co-producer Paul Nicholas has brought together an excellent and experienced cast (no fresh faced pre-drama schoolers here like the upcoming cast of Spring Awakening), and in this case things do get better with age: they sell the show marvellously. While the occasionally clunky line shows up in the text, it doesn’t get in the way, and Pomeranz has supplied a chamber score much like that of Marguerite’s: pretty but same-y and ultimately unmemorable, reproduced here on two pianos. Sound tech (no sound designer is credited) Andy Evans has gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide a wonderful mix which, given the large cast and small space, is no easy task. Mike Lee’s costumes are lovely to stare at and his set design is clean and simple.

In short?

Sometimes smaller is better, and this intimate production is worth checking out. The RZ would not be surprised were it to have a lovely future ahead. There’s a gem of a show here, and with some polishing it can become brilliant.

Where: Upstairs at the Gatehouse
When: Until 2 Nov. Tu-Sa @ 19:30, Su @ 16:00
How Much: £12/£15 (All but Sat/Sat). Unreserved seating.
Concessions: £10/12
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £12. Lush costume drama, big cast, and not boring.
RZ Other Notes: Those close to the RZ will appreciate the difficulty he had in actually reviewing this production at all. Not that getting to the show was hard or that he had massive laziness to overcome, but there are other “issues” which made it a bit of a sticky subject.


Jill said...

Re: Your comments about the currently running B'Way production of "A Tale of Two Cities" .

Why do you allow others to do your thinking for you? How can you dismiss what you call the "tripe" on Broadway if you admit you haven't tasted it yourself? As the author of said "tripe" I'd invite you to come to see our show for yourself, then announce whether it is to your taste or not. Our audiences are on their feet applauding and cheering every night. If you don't believe me, google the dozens of blogs (like yours - but from people who have actually SEEN the show.) Yours came to my attention through just such a google alert and caught my attention only because it was the only negative one I've read thus far! And interestingly, it would appear YOU HAVEN'T EVEN SEEN OUR SHOW! (sorry for shouting. but you are rather far away ;-)

I myself am trying to get over your way to see the London production if I can. But seriously, come to New York and see us. If you'd like we'll give you a backstage tour and invite you to meet some of the cast. Then you can write as honest a review as you want. Who knows? You might discover we're prime rib...(or at least a really good burger!)

Anonymous said...

I do believe the london version has a lot more depth to it. The music being more natural and it made a change to have music and lyrics that sounded like they wernt trying to make a million dollars but like it had emotion ridden rhythms and heart felt lyrics. It has a lot more feeling to it. More warmth. Some musicals are best kept to a small scale and intimate and this being a prime example. I would advise all London theatre go-ers and anyone who can make it here from the broadway to come and see our show over here in London. A tale of two cities. Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Highgate. London.

Jill said...

Hey Anonymous,
Did you see the Bway show? Julie Andrews was there last night and she found the lyrics extremely heartfelt - she told me she cried several times during the show. This doesn't have to be a competition between our two shows you know ;-) I'n not trying to get anyone from London to come here and see our show over yours! I was simply telling the American who runs this blog that he should come see the show before he casts aspersions on it! And the motivation behind writing my show was never to make a million dollars. Please. I started working on this over 20 years ago, on my own, as a kid. I continued working on it with little or no encouragement for a long time. Believe me there are FAR easier ways to make a million dollars if that had been my goal. So please don't make cynical assumptions and comment that my work is not heartfelt. The last time I checked, the writer of the London production was an extremely successful songwriter (far more successful than me)!

Rogue Zentradi said...

Hi Jill,

I would have replied sooner, but you made a good point: I haven't seen your show, and did in fact make a response based on the metacritic effect. You're right - while the press hated your show, word of mouth is starting to build (especially the fanbase for the cast, including the wonderful Natalie Toro who I saw years ago in the JCS tour) and I'll edit the comment to be more appropriately focused.

Regardless of what follows from here, let me honestly and sincerely say that I'm thrilled that you were able to get the show up on Broadway. Getting ANYTHING produced these days is a challenge, and to be an unknown and first timer makes it even harder.

That said, I decided to do some research before I made an edit or stood up for what I posted earlier, which meant reading up on the show's publicity (including your bit for broadway.com) and finding someone to upload the concept album for me (consider it a cheaper publicity write-off than a pair of orchestra tickets). As I loaded up the playlist, I was hoping, in many ways, to be proven wrong: that I spoke too son and that we were all lucky enough to have two new and distinct versions of a classic on our doorsteps.

I finished the album at around noon and as I write this at 5:30 PM....I can't remember a single song. Or lyric. There was something very "One Day More"-esque that I guess was the first act finale, and it wasn't nearly as ballad heavy as the London production was (which also shares the same "can't remember a thing about the score" flaw) but there wasn't a song that overwhelmingly impressed me right off the bat and stuck in my head. I wish I could say otherwise, but that one magic song which unlocks a score just isn't there for me.

Now, lots of people will say "but Sondheim doesn't do that" except from the Sondheim I've seen, he totally does. Even Sunday in the Park, which you cited as an inspiration and is considered to be a rather non-traditional score, has two numbers that grabbed me immediately: the first act finale and "Color and Light."

Likewise, I think the comparisons made in the press between your show and Les Miserables are fair: the musical idiom you wrote in is very 80's megashow and that's absolutely fine, but it does shift the tone from an intimate story of a group of friends set against a turbulent era to being about the turbulent era and a group of friends caught up in it. I will give you plenty of credit, however, for not succumbing to Les Miserables's neverending reprise syndrome and you have my deepest gratitude for while Boubil and Schönberg clearly did SOMETHING right to be filling a West End theatre for 20+ years, I found Les Miz to be one of the most excruciating things to have ever visited in a theatre.

I know that it will be impossible not to take these things personally, and I'm certainly not going to say you're a bad individual (though I believe you WERE doing programming for Showtime when they canceled Dead Like Me) but honestly? What I heard wasn't enough to make me drop $121.50 for a ticket, or even $60, which is roughly my absolute spending limit (£30) on a show these days. I won't doubt that the current cast, the visuals, and the book help, but the score is what speaks in a musical and the score here was, to me, Les Miz Light.

And you know what? The critics hated that show too, so you may very well have a long and healthy run, especially if the economy picks up in time for Christmas. And if the show does close early, please try again and return...and get Natalie Toro's agent to send her over here in the meantime.

Anonymous said...

Hey RZ

Not really Anonymous - Jill again - but for some reason can't sign in like i did before!

No worries about me taking anything personally anymore - after the critical bashing (which sadly was all too predictable and i was somewhat prepared for) - i'm up for anything!

Although i was a fan of Les Miz (you obviously were not) i had low expectations going into that show because i had listened to the original cast recording prior and i was severely underwhelmed. (and certainly didn't remember any of the music.) so I'm not surprised that you couldn't remember anything after one listening to mine. There is a LOT of music on that recording - a lot of individual themes - and very few (if any) reprises. If I had been a little more calculating in my writing I suppose i would have had half as many tunes and repeated them twice as many times. But it was never my intention to send people out of the theater humming. That's what a cast recording is for. It was my intention that people experience the music along with all the other elements of the show. This idea of people walking out of a new musical humming a tune is an urban legend of sorts. Unless a song has an almost jingly pop hook or you've got a phonographic memory, it's pretty hard for the average person to walk out humming songs they've only heard once. I will confess to not having written any "oh my god oh my god you guys" song in the score. But there are plenty of people who are singing the songs (the ushers for instance ;-) and once you've heard them a few times they are surprisingly hooky!
Anyway, the tracks on that concept recording are between 6 to 14 years old believe it or not! And they are not really representative of the show that's playing at the Hirschfeld every night. And the arguably best song in the show isn't even on the album. I would just ask that you still not try to make a comparison between an actual production you saw and an old cd you listened to once. If you compare the productions and come away liking the "Gatehouse" production better - that's a whole different kettle of fish. (or tripe!)

Anyway, I forgive you for not liking the concept cd. Because I really am not a bad person. What's more - I'm not responsible for canceling "Dead Like Me"! ;-)