THEATER REVIEW: Strong lead heads cast in musical take on ‘Tale of Two Cities’

‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (Musical)/ At Hudson High School Auditorium

CONSTANCE LOPEZ AND STEVE SANBORN, who are The Two of Us Productions, have seemingly limitless energy, courage and sheer chutzpah. They tackle enormous theater projects on the famous shoestring, refusing to acknowledge that talent and grit are probably not quite enough to replace the whole shoe—that is, Broadway-size dollars and an appropriate venue. (Among other things, it takes big bucks to assemble a full orchestral brass section that plays in tune.)

But it is the venue that really does me in. The Hudson High School auditorium, in spite of some theater accoutrements, is inhospitable to actors and audiences. It’s too big. It creates a gigantic desert between people on stage and the first row of seats. The audience is looking at actors through the wrong end of the telescope; and even with electronic aid, only the biggest, clearest voices can drive across the desert comfortably.

In this case, the desert is peopled with a full orchestra. Although a full orchestra is most welcome, this one is forced to sit level with the audience, grabbing a prominence that often overwhelms the actors and divides them from their audience aurally as well as visually. (Hundreds of years of theaters with orchestra pits existed for a reason. They work.) Somewhere, there must be a better location or a better configuration for The Two of Us Productions. Besides all that, on opening night it was freezing in there!

There is one major reason for going to see A Tale of Two Cities. It is the performance of Kenneth Kasch as Carton. The man sings gloriously. From his mind and voice, excessively purple songs emerge sounding like real music. Pop-style lyrics acquire undeserved dignity because what he feels is strong and honest. He actually takes the Dickens character believably from dissipation to heroic sacrifice through love for a woman and a child not his own. And any actor who can movingly deliver the too-famous lines starting “It is a far, far better thing I do…” definitely has craft.

The rest of the cast is uneven. Lopez is always a lovely and compelling presence on stage, but vocally she is over her head in this role (Madame Defarge). The lovers, played by Tara Young (Lucy) and Jeffrey Jene (Darnal), sing well enough but lack impact. James Jollie as Dr. Alexander Manette and Daniel Marcus as the Marquis are indecipherable. Faith Compo as Miss Pross is a solid pro, and Frank Leavitt as Defarge is excellent. In a small role as the seamstress, Isabel Costa stands out with nice singing and appealing simplicity. Jovan Bradley as Barsad was much stronger in this company’s last production, Next to Normal. The children, Holly and Joshua Bay, are attractive and well-directed. (They actually behave like children.)

There are some questionable wigs, but period costumes do what they are supposed to. The staging by Sanborn and Lopez mostly works, except for certain high-up scenes that are partially obscured by a stair structure.

An afternoon or evening at A Tale of Two Cities is long (three hours). The show will be performed through October 14, and tickets are available at 518 758-1648. For more info, access thetwoofusproductions.org.

 

 

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