As you know, I have a certain fondness for shows in the so-called ‘pop opera’ vein, but I have my limit, and this show goes way past it. It’s a painfully blatant ripoff of Boublil and Schonberg’s Les Miserables, and was written by a less-talented protégé of Frank Wildhorn named Jill Santoriello. And even as someone who has a soft spot for Wildhorn’s work, I have to admit the idea of warmed-over imitation Wildhorn is a pretty scary one.
As most of you already know, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is one of the greatest and most beautiful books ever written by human hands, but Santoriello clearly had no interest in actually adapting her source’s content. She clearly just wanted an easy formula to rip off the success of Les Mis, and saw another classic novel with a superficially similar tone and setting as the most expedient way to do that, and the fact that someone was willing to exploit this immortal masterpiece for such a crass commercial purpose is absolutely disgusting.
The show manages to fit in most of the novel’s elaborate plot, but it utterly fails at musicalizing the book’s ultra-rich emotions. The score is an endless slog of dull, oversung ballads, obnoxious ‘dramatic’ music that tries desperately to sound like Les Mis, and mugging stage-cockney comedy numbers. There is the occasional pretty tune, but Santoriello clearly doesn’t have her mentor’s gift for memorable melodies: the one song Wildhorn ghostwrote for the show, “Never Say Goodbye”, is a significant cut above anything else in the score.
The lyrics are somewhat more literate than you’d expect from something like this, but their attempt to capture the epic poetry of Les Mis’ lyrics just comes off as overwrought melodrama here. Leading man James Barbour gave an outrageously hammy performance that would actually have served well in Wildhorn’s Jekyll and Hyde musical, but what would have suited the colorful horror of that work just seems embarrassing and disrespectful in the face of Dickens’ exalted literary stature.
Any redeeming features this piece of garbage may have simply stem from those virtues of its source material that it was unable to destroy. The only positive aspect to this story is that the show’s attempt to co-opt great literature into a cynical marketing ploy was unsuccessful, and it is a great comfort to me that Broadway audiences (who are smarter than anyone gives them credit for) refused to stand for it.