Broadway Features and Reviews
The Tale of "A Tale of Two Cities"
By Leora Kanner, Broadway Magazine
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." This famous opening line comes from the classic Charles Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities, which will begin previews this August on Broadway as an epic musical, set against the theatrical sweep of the French Revolution. Dickens' celebrated novel was first published in 31 weekly installments, beginning in 1859.
So what happens in A Tale of Two Cities? For those looking for a quick plot peek, we offer you this quick version of the much-admired story. The novel follows its characters in Paris and London during the French Revolution. The story centers on Sydney Carton, an English Barrister who sacrifices his life to save the husband of the woman he loves, Lucie Manette. Through the story is of one family, the book delves into the plight of the French Revolution and the horrific mob mentality that existed at that time.
A much-abbreviated version of the plot goes as follows (spoiler alert): It is 1775 and England and France are in a period of upheaval. The background to the play is highly relevant and shows how people in the two countries had lives that were extremely interconnected.
The novel opens with Lucie Manette, an orphan and a ward of a bank. She learns that her father is alive and has been released from an unfair prison sentence in Paris; therefore, she travels to France with Mr. Lorry, a man who managed her father's estate. They find her father and relocate to London, where Lucy decides to devote her life to her father's care. Lorry is an important character who becomes very friendly with the family.
Lucy and her father are called to testify in a trial in France after five years have passed. A French man, Charles Darnay, is being accused of treason. Lucy testifies that she saw Darnay on a ship but admits that he was kind to her and hopes her testimony has not damaged his chances of freedom. Darnay is saved when another man, Sydney Carton, reveals himself to look strikingly similar to Darnay. Due to their resemblance, the credibility of any witness is thrown into question.
Darnay and Sidney become inextricably tied to the family after this event. Sidney, a drunk, eventually reveals his deep feelings for Lucy who he believes cares for him as well. Lucy, on the other hand, marries Darnay, who says he has a big secret that no one knows.
After a year Darnay goes back to France to see to the business that got him into his original trouble. He visits a very cruel and aristocratic uncle who doesn't care about running over some peasants. This uncle is murdered soon after. Darnay returns to England where he and Lucy have two children, one that passes away. They are happy although living with an ominous feeling of doom looming over them.
It is soon revealed that Darnay is a descendant of a very aristocratic family and he fears returning to France because of his heritage. He does return in order to save a friend; there he discovers that a peasant revolution has taken place. Although Darnay attempts to explain that he is a supporter of the peasants, the revolutionaries take him into custody.
Darnay is tried for his life but is saved by Lucy's father whom the peasants admire. Darnay is released and then taken back into custody after a damning letter by Lucy's father, written earlier, was discovered. The court decides to execute Darnay and there is little that anyone, including Lucy's father, can do. Carton appears and eventually decides to use his resemblance to Darnay in order to save him. He tells no one, even drugging Darcy and smuggling him out of the prison. He eventually dies at the guillotine, saying that he is dying for his love of Lucy and proud of his final act of courage.
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