July 28, 2014

Staging a Timely Tale

Staging a Timely Tale
June 2, 2011

A year ago when members of the Theatre and Dance Department chose Jill Santoriello’s A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical for the College’s 2011 spring production, they had no idea the show, set during the French Revolution, would prove a timely comment on current uprisings in the Middle East. Yet as director Chrissy Calkins Steele pointed out in the program notes, “The cry of the French people for ‘liberty, equality, fraternity, or death’ is echoed today by people seeking freedom from all kinds of oppression.”

An extremely ambitious undertaking, the College’s production was the first-ever collegiate staging of the play. Immediately following the second performance, audience members enjoyed a “talk back” with Santoriello—the playwright, lyricist, and composer—who readily acknowledged the challenge of staging her show, describing it as “huge and hugely difficult.” Clearly, however, she thought the College was up to the task, saying she was “proud” of the cast and “really impressed” by the production, which was, indeed, praiseworthy.

The actors excelled in both individual and ensemble performances, and the simplicity and versatility of the set served the production well, providing clear and convincing English and French environments that supported the actors without upstaging them. Last, but certainly not least, the musical performances—orchestral and vocal—were outstanding.

It wasn’t a perfect production, of course. Occasionally, the orchestra overpowered the singers, for example, but as the audiences’ ovations indicated, cast, musicians, and crew all did an excellent job. In turn, their high-quality production reinforced the play’s powerful message.

Dr. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus of English, underscored that message in his program notes. Pointing out the limitations of mere regime change, he wrote, “Most revolutions merely revolve, and revolutionaries who believe that freedom can be forged by outer rather than inner change, often do nothing but replace one gang of tyrants by another.” Fortunately, that’s not the final message of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Santoriello’s musical adaptation, or the College’s production. Offering more than a cynical view of the cyclical nature of revolution, all three point to the progressive potential of genuine—i.e. inner—change. As Campbell put it, “It is not institutions which need to be born again but the human heart.” Audience members no doubt left the production with renewed commitment to a change of heart.

Click here to view images from the performance.