By Julie Halverson Tate
Bluffdale Arts Council presents the musical A Tale of Two Cities playing for only two days, three performances: October 13-14. A Tale of Two Cities is an adaptation of the classic novel by Charles Dickens, with book adaptation, music, and script written by Jill Santoriello. The story follows Lucie Manette (Mattie Curtis) from young childhood, when she is presented to a guardian to be raised after the death of her mother. It is implied that her father, Dr. Alexander Manette (Dan Curtis) is dead already. The story quickly jumps seventeen years later, when Lucie learns that her father is in fact not dead, but has been imprisoned in the Bastille for 17 years and is now released. She rejoices in her restored relationship with her father. Together, they become acquainted with a young man named Charles Darnay (Nathan Curtis), who is a former aristocrat from Paris who, disgusted with his family’s mistreatment of the lower class and people in general, had denounced any connection to his family, the Evermonde family, forsaken his inherited status and money, and changed his name. Unbeknownst to him, his malicious uncle had him framed for espionage, and a brilliant attorney, Sydney Carton (Nathaniel Noyes), who also happens to be a drunkard with no sense of propriety nor class nor virtue, sees that Darnay has been framed and pleads Darnay’s case and gains his acquittal in England. In her gratitude, Lucie befriends Carton and in turn he falls in love with her, professing it right after her engagement to Darnay. The love triangle between Manette, Darnay, and Carton is pivotal to the development of the play.
Years pass, and Darnay and Manette have a daughter, and Carton bonds with the family out of his love for Lucie, and finds his sweet relationship with their daughter as a comfort to the wound of his unrequited love. The plot thickens, however, when Darnay learns of his wicked uncle’s death at the hand of a man whose son he ran over carelessly with his carriage, leaving behind a servant who requested Darnay’s help as the revolutionary peasant class was executing anyone related to the crime. Madame Defarge (Brandi Washburn) is one of the peasants who has taken it upon herself to lead the bloody resistance to the aristocracy. Darnay returns to Paris, feeling obligated to help this servant of his uncle to be freed from conviction, and instead of being able to offer his assistance, he is instead imprisoned as an Evermonde descendant. He learns during this time that his family had been responsible for the imprisonment of Lucie’s father, and he is able to see that Darnay had no hand in that, but was a young boy at the time, and has seen that Darnay’s character is of the highest caliber.
The rest of the working class, however, under the leadership of Madame Defarge, will not surrender and demand his death, and find him guilty of the crimes of his family and sentence him to death. In the meantime, Lucie, her father, and Carton, who by this time has reformed and become a good man as a direct result of his love for Lucie, travel to Paris in an effort to represent and free Darnay. Carton quickly realizes that there is no hope of freeing Darnay, and uses his connections to arrange a visit with Darnay the night before his death. He arranges for Lucie’s departure for Paris when he learns that Mme. Defarge plans to kill the entire family, and heads to the prison. I attended this show with my 20-year-old son and together we watched the cast perform this beautifully heartbreaking and inspiring tale of love, the ability to change, and sacrifice. Mattie Curtis as Manette is exquisite, with breathtaking vocals and characterization. Her performance in Act II of “Without a Word” is both emotional and flawless vocally. Curtis displays the change in maturity from the earlier scenes to the later scenes. Nathan Curtis shares equally exquisite vocals and characterization and captures the character of Charles Darnay with finesse. These two performers definitely lead the cast in vocal ability and experience, and are delightful to watch. Noyes as Carton produces a performance that is moving and enjoyable. He is very fun to watch as a classless attorney in the early scenes, and portrays the transition from that character to one of devotion as the show progresses very well. He is poignant in his final scene as he climbs the stairs to the guillotine and sings a reprise of “I Can’t Recall” with resolve and no fear.
The ensemble cast, led by Brett Davis as John Barsad, Jared Austin as Jerry Cruncher, Andy Nielsen as Mr. Defarge, Brandi Washburn as the angry Madame Defarge, Peter Johnson as Stryverand, Chris Miasnik as Jarvis Lorry, and Curtis as Dr. Alexander Manette, do a great job of helping to develop the story. The directors, the husband-wife team of Eric Peterson and Kelsha Peterson, present excellent staging, particularly in the ensemble numbers. By far the strongest ensemble number is at the beginning of Act II, when they storm the Bastille and sing “Everything Stays the Same.” They sing powerfully and with emotion and it is draws the audience right back in following intermission.
At times, I was slightly distracted as it seemed like there was little connection with some characters in certain scenes. But overall, I was still riveted by Bluffdale’s A Tale of Two Cities.
The set is visually striking, especially for community theatre. It is clear that many hours have been spent to create a visually pleasing set with many levels to create depth on the stage as well as the feeling of 18th century Europe. Most notable, I think, is the amazing cg. Bluffdale is known for its costuming, and they have raised the bar even higher with this production. The dresses are beautiful and period appropriate, and every detail from the men’s boots to the hats and children’s petticoats are stunning. Props are well-placed as well. A Tale of Two Cities is being performed on the stage at South Hills Middle School in Riverton, which is a large stage and auditorium with a good sound system and will seat many people. It is near the intersection of Bangerter Highway and 13400 South, so travelling there is very easy. The production is suitable for all audiences, with some explaining needed for younger children who don’t understand the nuances of the time period. Running time is about 2 ½ hours.
Bluffdale Arts brings a fabulous musical to be enjoyed by all. With such a short run, I’d say—get to Cities and see this remarkable production.
Bluffdale Arts Council presents A Tale of Two Cities by Jill Santoriello
South Hills Middle School, 13508 South 4000 West, Riverton, Utah, 84065
October 13, 7:00 PM, October 14, 1:00 PM, 7:30 PM
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A Tale of Two Cities Facebook Event