BWW Reviews: A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Charing Cross Theatre, April 18 2012
There's much to admire in Paul Nicholas's production of A Tale of Two Cities. (Incidentally, just me who always chuckles at the concept of "a musical version of A Tale of Two Cities"? Thankfully this one did not star Joey Tribbiani.) When I interviewed him a few weeks ago, he emphasised the need to keep the action moving and not to let it drag, and this is demonstrated beautifully by the running times of each act - one hour 15 for the first, one hour for the second.
He also hinted that he treats the material as a soap more than an epic. Certainly this works better than the sprawling version of the show seen on Broadway, when I lost track of who was who and what was happening despite knowing the story very well. Unfortunately this does mean that occasionally it veers into melodrama - when Lucie overhears her father talking about her husband's true identity, she gasps, "He's an Evremonde?!" and this concludes the scene.
Jennifer Hepburn, as Lucie, is beautiful and engaging, with an impressive voice and managing to wring some display of emotion out of this cynical reviewer. Jonathan Ansell, as Darnay, largely sings very well, but I wasn't convinced by his characterisation - I think Darnay needs a bit of wit as well as the solid goodness and nobility he's most known for.
Jemma Alexander, as the deranged Mme Defarge, is fantastic in her musical numbers - given a melody, she acts wonderfully and terrifyingly. I was also impressed by Craig Berry in his London debut as M Defarge - another great voice on show.
Michael Howe, as Sydney Carton, the dissipated hero of the piece, is a charismatic and convincing figure; and certainly, you can imagine Nicholas himself in the role, which he played in the show's previous incarnation. However, without wishing to veer into offence, I did have a little issue with the casting; good though Howe is, he is clearly significantly older than Ansell. Their wigs were, yes, similar, but they do not look similar enough even in passing for the central conceit of the plot to operate properly, particularly to those of us sitting near the stage.
That said, the show's definitely worth a look - it's always good to see different musical theatre offerings in the centre of town.
A Tale of Two Cities plays at the Charing Cross Theatre until May 12