After a compelling performance of A Tale of Two Cities, James Barbour, a principle actor, stood at the front of the stage and announced to a standing and enthusiastic audience that the show will be closing within the next two weeks. The cast had received notification of the closing this week and unless by some miracle ticket sales picked up the musical would have its final performance before it could complete even a three month run.
Barbour attributed the lack of ticket sales to ‘harsh economic times’ and urged the audience to continue to buy tickets to this show and Broadway in general. One may wonder if this reasoning is true? Perhaps the show was just not good enough to harbor a significant audience. The question remains: could the show have been a success during a time when people want to spend money on Broadway?
A Tale of Two Cities has all the makings of a Broadway blockbuster and by all means should have been as popular as a show very similar to it, Les Miserables. Both were historical musicals set against the dramatic backdrop of the French Revolution. Both musicals consisted of heart wrenching vocalists, plot twists, deaths, revolutions, and unexpected heroes.
Although A Tale of Two Cities is not exactly a mainstream show, it has garnered mixed reviews from critics. No huge dance numbers or hilarious parodies exist to capture a typical audience; however, the telling of a historic and powerful story through song and musical overtures is exactly what the Broadway stage was made for.
The important novel on which the show is based is a Dickens masterpiece; the plot is evocative and gripping and the characters identifiable and easy to empathize with. Even the minor characters, such as Natalie Toro’s “Madame Therese Defarge” were able to bring power and emotion to roles that could potentially have been merely auxiliary.
One of the greatest successes of the musical is its depiction of the characters as flawed humans; there is no immediate “good” or “bad” guy during the chaotic time of the “reign of terror.” All people were desperate and all guilty during this time period and it is this inability to identify an enemy that makes the story so interesting. It is also the comfortable nature of a historic tale that engages an audience; one can enjoy the story as pure entertainment while being transported to another era, which is over and resolved.
Given all the positive elements of the show, it seems it should have lasted longer than two months (even if it is not a masterpiece). According to The New York Times, producers sighted “the recent recession and stock market decline which have resulted in weaker ticket buying traffic patterns and steep discounting in the industry,” as reasons for the shows early closing. Perhaps if A Tale of Two Cities had been performed in a different stage, ticket sales would have more accurately reflected the many positive qualities present in the show. For now, the historic tale will have to remain canonized as one of the greatest novels in history, rather than the greatest Broadway Musical.
A Tale of Two Cities played its final Broadway performance on November 9, 2008.