The musical version of “A Tale Of Two Cities” will soon have its opening on Broadway. This theatrical adaptation of the enduring work by Charles Dickens may seem out of character for the famous author: one may even wonder, what relationship, if any, does the man celebrated for novels like Great Expectations and David Copperfield have with theatre?
Although Charles Dickens and Broadway have been connected for a very long time through the musicals like Oliver!, Dickens’ career as a playwright and an actor place him with theatre even earlier. Aside from his success as a novelist, Dickens performed routinely as an actor in amateur theatrical productions. Many of his performances were done for charitable purposes; he acted in order to raise money for the preservation of the Shakespeare house as well as to collect funds for struggling writers and their families.
Dickens even performed for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on numerous occasions. One such performance was that of Not As Bad As We Seem by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Dickens appeared as Lord Wilmot in May of 1851 before the Queen and Prince. Dickens also performed and collaborated on an afterpiece of this production called Mr. Nightingales Diary.
Charles Dickens’ love for theatre extended beyond his acting. He was also a playwright, stage manager, director, and librettist. However, Dickens attempts at being a playwright feel inferior to his other works and today his theatrical writing is largely unknown. His most successful attempt was No Thoroughfare, a play he wrote in collaboration with Wilkie Collins.
Beyond the acting he did in his own lifetime, it is difficult to dispute the importance of theatre to the legacy of Charles Dickens; Dickens’ works have been kept alive through the dramatic and musical adaptations that have come from them. Through musical productions of “Oliver!,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “A Tale of Two Cities,” new audiences continue to be introduced to the magic of Charles Dickens.
Ironically, it is rumored that had Charles Dickens not been sick on the day of his scheduled audition with Covent Garden Theater, he may have become a successful actor rather than the famous English novelist he became. As this did not happen, Charles Dickens was able to dabble in theater while he was alive, while at the same time producing literary works that continue to enrich the Broadway and theatrical landscape even today.