Monday, August 11, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities: International Studio Cast Recording [2008]

I can't recall a night so clear. The Heavens seem an inch away and not unfriendly after all.
If life was ever quite this sweet, I can't recall.

-Sydney, Act I: I Can't Recall

You wouldn't believe the little internal happy-dance I did in my brain when I heard of this. I had rather high expectations for this, and for the most part it was quite satisfactory! The music was good, with several highlights that are great. The characters were portrayed more or less accurate to the book, and they didn't butcher the ending! The only thing that kind of disappointed me was that Madame Defarge and Miss Pross didn't get a Confrontation style song during their little clash at the end. Oh well. Would have been weird anyway. ;D
Speaking of the Confrontation, this musical sometimes seems to be trying to be Les Miserables. I mean, I really like this musical, but you've got to admit that they were sometimes copying. The most glaring is the Act I finale 'Until Tomorrow', and there's a little bit of influence here and there. The only instance that bugs me is the number No Honest Way, which takes place in a bar and seems to be aspiring towards that Master of the House feel. Then again, Gaston is a musical number that took place in a bar (a villain song too, no less) and that doesn't bug me.
I was a little annoyed at first, because Charles isn't actually in this that much. He's in about four songs and that's it. But I got to thinking; A Tale of Two Cities is about both Charles and Sydney, but Sydney is the character who changes and grows more through the story. Charles is good, but he doesn't really grow as a character, he doesn't need too. He's already a pretty good person, and he has a whole life with his wife and family ahead of him. It makes sense for the musical to focus on Sydney more. He's a dynamic character, and in musicals, character changes are expressed through song, which makes it easier for the musical to focus on him.
Anyways, I hope you're in the mood for a long post, because I'm in a ranting mood today!

1. Prologue: The Shadows of the Night
Wow, the orchestra is beating us up! So far as opening overtures go, this isn't the best I've heard. It's pretty much the orchestra hitting you over the head with some loud notes. Then the rest of the song is a quick little verse sung by Alexandre Manette about how he's going to write down his tale before he loses his mind in the Bastille. Does make for an intriguing start of the show, though!
2. The Way It Ought To Be (Paris)
Now this, this is a much better opening. The orchestra hits at the beginning of this song actually carry a good tune, and it sounds very cool. I think that it does a good job of establishing the time, and the lyrics really carry the mentality of the time. At least, I think so. I obviously wasn't there during the French Revolution, so maybe don't take my word for it. ;)
3. Who Are You? / You'll Never Be Alone
A duet between Lucie and her rather traumatized father, Alexandre Manette. It's a sweet song, but it feels a little over-long. I really like the tune, though.
4. The Way It Ought To Be (London)
Even the instrumentals sound London-y! I apologize for being a book-purist, but Sydney is way too chipper in this song. In the book, he wasn't so extremely proud of being a drunken loser. I mean yeah, he's drunk, but Sydney's more of a depressive drunk than a cheerful drunk. That having been said, this song is pretty funny. :D
5. No Honest Way
I don't know why they felt like a big chorus number right here. The Way It Ought To Be (London) establishes the setting, and the next song is a big, slightly humorous, chorus number. Well, this song is kind of funny, and the tune is fun! I have to give it some credit there. I'm still a little bugged by Sydney's strange chipperness. This musical is trying to imply that Lucie alerted him to his sluggish, drunken ways. Uh, no. Maybe I need to read the book again (Don't mind if I do!) but I don't think that's how it worked.
6. The Trial
Hee hee, I like this song. It's delightfully morbid (in a black humor kind of way), and the refrain is catchy!
7. Reflection
On My Own from Les Miserables and Lonely Room from Oklahoma! Together at last. Well, not quite as creepy and obsessive as Lonely Room. But along the same lines. Still a little creepy though.  In this song, Sydney talks to himself and wonders in song form why he rescued Charles back at the trial. Then he goes on to wonder what it would be like if Lucie loved him, it's very depressing, but the tune and orchestrations are belissima. (did I spell that right?)
8. Letter From Uncle
“Mwhahaha, I'm evil! I run over lil' kids with my carriage of doom and despair! Mwha. Ha. Ha.”
9. The Promise
This song is where Charles makes two rather important revelations to Monsieur Manette. First off, Charles is in love with Manette's daughter. Secondly (as if that weren't bad enough!), he starts to reveal something important to the plot, but Monsieur Manette gets distressed and cuts him off. I like how Charles asks Lucie's father's permission before he starts to court her, it's very gallant of him. :)
10. I Can't Recall
Of Sydney's many, many, many solos (he gets three!), this is my favorite. It's also the most depressing in hindsight, but c'est la vie. The instrumentals are gorgeous (that's how you get Monica hooked on a song. Have a pretty intro.), the tune is gorgeous, and the actor's voice- well, I wouldn't call it gorgeous, but it's a good sounding voice for Sydney. This is actually one of the more cheerful songs of the musical (lyrics wise), but it always makes me a little sad. Here Sydney sings about how tomorrow's at his feet, and how he's going to improve his life- all because Lucie showed him some kindness. Of course, things don't go like that. Saaaad...
11. Resurrection Man
Gah, a comedy number. That came out of nowhere. I don't know if this musical keeps in the whole Barsad/Cly-Death-Faking business, but if it doesn't, then this song is totally pointless. I mean, I have nothing against comedy numbers (High Adventure, anyone?), but they should at least serve the plot a little bit.
12. Now At Last
Charles and Lucie's mandatory love duet. But aside from being very sweet and heartwarming, this song is also kind of funny! And I really like it when love duets have the couple singing one line after the other, not sure how to explain it, but it's always fun to listen to. :)
13. The Wedding / If Dreams Came True
Aww, this is so sweet. And I mean that in the best possible way. I mean, I'm so caught up with all the cute marriage stuff that it kind of lets the air out of my tank when Sydney comes in to sing about how depressing he is. But the lyrics are so cool, they almost completely match up with this part from the book, so... yay! Still. I love you Sydney, but this is one of the few happy songs so... stay out. XD
14. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Let it be known that this song has one of the coolest opening instrumentals ever! Ahem. Basically what's going on is that a little boy was killed by some careless aristocrat's carriage, and Madame Defarge is trying to convince the little boy's father to go and kill the aristocrat. Who's Charles' uncle. It's a little- okay, REALLY- dark, especially when you take into consideration that the last song was all chipper and wedding-y. The vocals in this song are a-m-a-z-i-n-g, and the acting is really good.
15. Little One
I saw the title of this one, and thought it was going to be really saccharine. Heh heh... no. Actually really sad. The first part of this song is Little Lucie saying her bedtime prayers, and then Sydney starts singing (wikipedia says that Charles and Lucie convinced him to go and tuck their kid in. Lazy parents! :D). Then it transitions to France where they're having a funeral for that little boy who died. It's really, really sad. And the chorus sounds so cool.
16. Until Tomorrow
Ooof. The title of this song makes it sound like the Walmart brand version of One Day More. But in all seriousness, this song is pretty cool. I mean, the Revolution in Two Cities is way darker and more violent than the Revolution in Les Miserables, so it's very interesting to hear the ways that it's similar and different at the same time. Ernest Defarge's actor has such a nice sounding voice, and his accent is so American it makes me smile. :D
17. Everything Stays The Same
This song... wow, this song. Best Act II opener I've ever heard. Let's see, what do I like about this number... (1) The eerie waltz-tempo (2) The chorus chanting “Libery! Equality! Fraternity! Or Death!” (3) The way they incorporated the novel's opening lines into the song and it didn't feel too shoehorned in (4) The 'What happened to tomorrow?' verse (5) The guillotine sound at the end... this song does an amazing job of establishing the Reign of Terror.
18. The Tale
Okay, this song has a little bit of inappropriate content (not the musical's fault, it was in the book too), but it's handled well. This is the drama bomb of A Tale of Two Cities (every story has a drama bomb. Like the siege of Gondor in LOTR, and The Final Battle in Les Miserables.), and sometimes the music is a little overdramatic. It's not that bad- it certainly sounds cool-, but Madame Defarge sounds like she could totally be on American Idol. And the dying guy in the flashback sequence sounds like he is totally not dying.
19. If Dreams Came True (Reprise)
This one's pretty sad. The bit with Sydney at the beginning seems a little pointless, seeing as there's another moment almost exactly like it a few tracks from now. But the Charles verse is very nice. Well, nice as in, we like the lyrics. The actual subject matter is pretty sad.
20. Without A Word
So in this song, Lucie is (understandably) a little cheesed off with Charles for skipping off to France and getting himself sentenced to death by height-adjustment. My sister prefers the alternate song for this scene (Never Say Goodbye), but I actually think that this song (while it's maybe a little harsh) adds an interesting dimension to the whole Charles/Lucie romance, and acting in this song is pretty good too!
21. The Bluff
Heh heh, this one's actually kind of funny, all things considered. This is where Sydney goes to Barsad and blackmails him into letting him visit Charles in prison. So of course, Sydney can drug Charles and swap places with him. Oh. Um, spoilers? XD
22. Let Her Be A Child
Bring Him Home, anyone? :D In all seriousness, this song kind of maybe sort of made me teary eyed. I mean, there's Lucie jr. singing her bedtime prayers, and then Sydney starts singing along, and yeah... I'm kind of pathetic.
23. The Letter

So, Sydney swaps places with Charles, and he writes a quick note to Lucie. And um, he sings it. Cuz' it's a musical, and we even sing letters!
24. Defarge Goodbye

Monseiur Defarge mourning his wife. They could have used this time to make that Lady-Confrontation, but... yeah. This is good too, I guess.
25. Finale

All together now. One! Two! Three! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
Ahem. So far as finales go, this is pretty good! The seamstress, the guillotine noises, the instruments, the I Can't Recall reprise, the mandatory saying of certain final words... [content sigh]. It's great.
26. Never Say Goodbye (Bonus Track)

Haha! Not letting you go yet! This is the solo Lucie sang in a concert version, and they stuck it on as a bonus track, which is nice. The lyrics are a little on the 'okay' side. I mean, I'm sure there's nothing wrong with them, but they don't carry the emotional punch that Without A Word does. The tune on the other hand is so lovely! I can't decided which solo I like better! :)

The Verdict: A
Granted, this musical isn't without it's flaws. There are a few songs that aren't that great (No Honest Way and Resurrection Man), and sometimes it feels like the makers were ripping off Les Miserables. Also, Charles doesn't get his own song, which is lame, seeing as he's one of the main characters! But aside from that, this musical is terrific. It's got great atmosphere, and manages to keep the spirit of the book. And this CD has a lot of really good performances on it.

Favorite Song: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Runners Up: I Can't Recall, Everything Stays The Same, and Little One.

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