By Jennifer Mustoe and Craig Mustoe
Centerville is privileged to host CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s A Tale of Two Cities–The Musical, opening Friday to a rousing, enthusiastic crowd. We were able to watch this magnificent show following an interview with Director Scott Montgomery (video and transcript posting soon.) As Montgomery described his vision, we couldn’t have been more excited to see A Tale of Two Cities–The Musical. Whatever our expectations had been, this production exceeded them all.
The set, designed by CenterPoint’s Executive Producer Scott Van Dyke, is a marvelous wonder of moving, two-tiered structures that miraculously pirouetted on wheels with little effort (or so it seemed.) As Montgomery described, there are many different locations in both London and Paris areas (the Two Cities in the Tale.) These structures were stand alone but also able to be moved up against one another to make larger “buildings” and so forth. It was very effective, moving the story along nicely.
A Tale of Two Cities–The Musical is taken from the novel by the same name by Charles Dickens. Its playwright, Jill Santoriello, started working on it when she was 15 years old. A full 25 years later, it became a full-fledged production. Santoriello shared many insights with Director Montgomery and it’s clear her passion shines through in Centerville.
I will say this right now–every person in this show has a fabulous voice. We were overwhelmed with the vocals in this show–made up of folks who are doing this for love, not money. Music Director Marcie Jacobson has pulled everything out of this talented bunch to create solos and harmonies and ensemble numbers that are out of this world.
Sidney Carton, played fantastically by Taylor Smith, has the biggest character arch and cascades us through his journey with his amazing voice, excellent acting choices, and synergy with the cast. Sidney is a drunken wastrel with money–caring for nothing and no-one. Because Dickens understands human nature so well, we are told obliquely that Sidney is demoralized from childhood wrongs and drinks to forget, trite though that sounds. When Smith sings, the audience doesn’t even breathe, it feels like, until he ends his last note, and then the clapping is intense. Smith has lovely scenes with many of the principles in the show and his harmonies and interactions are fantastic. I met him after the show and he is an affable, confident, friendly person, so playing the rather creepy early Sidney must have been interesting. I will not tell you the end, but Sidney becomes a far different person.
Sidney loves Lucie Manette, played by beautiful, sweet-voiced Sarah Jane Watts. Craig said that Watts is exactly as he pictured Lucie when he read the book. Watts’ first scene when she meets the father she thought was dead is beyond poignant. She sings her lilting “You’ll Never Be Alone” in response to the touching “Who Are You” by her father Dr. Manette (David Weekes). This duet is memorable and these two actors had some of the best energy together. I was convinced of their love for one another more than any other relationship in the show. Weekes’ weeping as his newly-found daughter sings to him wrung me out–right at the beginning of the show. *tissue alert*
Lucie meets Charles Darnay (Christian Lackman), a French royal who is disgusted with how his class treats peasants and gives away his fortune, denounces his truly horrible uncle Marquis St. Evermond (Matt Green) and goes to England. Lucie is smitten with Charles from the first and they eventually marry. Lucie and Charles are a great match as they are both soft-hearted and truly good people. They care for others with benevolence, and in the case of Charles, some naivete. Sidney loves Lucie and eventually becomes a beloved friend to the Darnays and their daughter, Little Lucie (Jocelyn Weekes).
Green as the Marquis is one of the slimiest creepers I’ve ever seen onstage. Oh. My. Gosh. It’s fun but difficult to play the bad guy. Green’s bad (rotten, evil, soulless) guy is great. The other ‘bad guy’ character in this show, Madame Defarge, played by Carissa Klitgaard, is not evil as much as filled with rage, resentment, and despair. I understand that Mme. Defarge is one of the most hated characters in literature, but in this production of A Tale of Two Cities, Klitgaard shows Defarge’s vulnerability under her unending lack of forgiveness. Her pain is so deep and she has lived her entire life dwelling in that pain. She lashes out, and Klitgaard really lashes(!) and it’s like this character grows about a foot taller. Honestly. Klitgaard’s huge, rich voice and her fierce acting choices fill up the stage when she is singing. I met this lovely actress after the show and she is nothing like her character. It’s like her evil twin is onstage in her place. I say this with every bit of praise. Both antagonists are characters to fear, but while the Marquis is evil borne of hate and uncaring, Defarge is pain that has become demonized. This plays well in this show.
Other principles Ernest Defarge (Lucas Charon) strong, resolute, Jarvis Larry (Hugh Hanson), Miss Pross (Kathi Pike), Jerry Cruncher (Tyler Hanson), John Barsad (J.R. Moore) hilarious, great timing, great Cockney accent, Stryver (Jacob Shamy) ever-hopeful and fun, Gabelle (J. Caleb Morris) sincere, and Gaspard (Thomas Bullen) strong performance, bring talent and beautiful voices to A Tale of Two Cities to create a multi-layered, interesting piece.
Every principle and every ensemble member in the show is spot on. Each brings remarkable characterization choices that are powerful, exact, singular, and perfect. In talking with Director Montgomery after the show, I told him how impressed we were and I could see him ticking away in his head where things weren’t perfect. To me, they were flawless. Every member of the cast stays focused and are completely believable. I watched carefully to see if anyone was dropping character. Nope. All are engaged.
There are multiple costume changes in this show and the costumes all are quite elaborate. Tammis Boam‘s costumes are sumptuous and I can only imagine the many hands backstage that help the actors climb in and out of these lovely creations. Hope Bird (Wig/Hair) does a fabulous job with the interesting and intricate hairstyles of the time. Choreographer Marilyn Montgomery gives her actors dances that are fun to watch but not too difficult and fussy. There’s enough going on in this show without elaborate dances that would only interfere. Seth Miller‘s Lighting Design needs its own bio. This show has marvelous lighting choices and it adds immensely to the various moods and nuances. You’ll see what I mean when you see the show.
A Tale of Two Cities is a huge novel with big themes. The musical zips by pretty quickly and obviously, many smaller subplots are dropped. Though it’s not necessary to know the novel, studying it a bit before you see the show will not detract from the performance, even when you know the ending, which I am *not* giving away here. And even if you *do* know the ending, it still wrenches emotion out of you. I saw a lot of people dabbing their eyes at the end of the show.
Note: I saw children at Friday’s performance. Though there are deaths (a few stabbings onstage–no blood at all and no groaning or screaming) and deaths we know are from the guillotine because we hear the slice of the blade off stage, again, no screams of agony, the show has a lot of stuff going on. Kids probably won’t like the show because it’s pretty deep and moves at a pace that the Sesame Street generation may not appreciate. However, those kids I saw during intermission and after the show looked happy and like they’d been entertained and not scarred for life. I think the messages of A Tale of Two Cities are certainly valuable, so use your discretion in choosing to bring children, but I’d say tweens and up is a good recommendation.
The themes of this show: redemption, sacrifice, forgiveness, trusting God, loving others, (and more) are all well represented, partly by Santoriello’s marvelous script and partly because this production has harnessed some of the best talent in Utah. Straight up. I often say that I insist people come see this show or that show. I have never meant it more when I say, DO NOT MISS CenterPoint’s A Tale of Two Cities. You will laugh, you will cry, you will look up all the songs when you get home. You will be thinking about this show and talking about it with your friends and family for some time. It’s that kind of show.
Centerpoint Legacy Theatre presents A Tale of Two Cities by Jill Santoriello based on the novel by Charles Dickens CenterPoint Legacy Theatre Barlow Mainstage, 525 North 400 West. Centerville, UT September 29–October 28, Monday–Saturday 7:30 PM, Saturday matinees 2:30 PM Tickets $14 – $25.50 Available online, by phone, or at the box office Contact: 801-298-1302 CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s Facebook Page