As a part of my school’s mandatory concert, opera, and drama series events, I was able to see Broadway’s A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical, a moving production written by Jill Santoriello and based on Charles Dickens’ best-selling novel.
Having seen a traveling Broadway cast perform Les Miserables a year before, I found A Tale of Two Cities to be cut from the same cloth. The lighting, colors, costumes, and set could be used interchangeably, but the plot was a different angle to the rebellion.
The music is also beautiful and I love the theme of loneliness that was introduced early on:
When Dr. Manette is reunited with his daughter Lucie, she tells him he will never be alone again now that she is there. When former aristocrat Charles Darnay approaches Dr. Manette to ask for Lucie’s hand in marriage, Dr. Manette agrees so Lucie will never be alone when he passes on.
Later, when Darnay is imprisoned to be executed, a heartbroken Lucie reflects that she would have gladly joined Darnay on his path to impending doom, but concludes that she will not follow after him. “Though my soul will die with you,” she sings, “our child will not be left alone to spend a lifetime wondering how we could do this to our own.”
The very essence of love is putting another before yourself, so I find it beautiful how that heart is portrayed in each of these characters. This mindset is especially captured in “Let Her Be a Child,” where the father figures express their desire for the innocence available during childhood to be experienced while the time is at hand.
Back to when Lucie and her father are living alone in England, they make the acquaintance of a lawyer and drunk named Sydney Carton who, like what seems to be every other young gentleman, falls in love with Lucie. Compared to Darnay and Stryver, however, Sydney’s affections appear to be the deepest when he sings “Reflection.” In music and content, I found this number to parallel “Evermore” from Beauty and the Beast, similarities that helped me better understand Sydney’s feelings.
Months later, Lucie is trying to convince a reluctant Sydney to join her family and Darnay for Christmas Eve supper. Sydney was quick to list reasons why he found himself unworthy of such an invitation. Lucie quickly combated his remarks by recognizing evidences of good in him, an optimism I identify with. “You beat yourself up enough for two people,” she essentially said while Sydney just stared at her in awe. How could she be so optimistic? He admired her upward thinking and she left him inspired him to be a better man.
They say a soulmate is someone who makes you a better person because they inspire you to change, therefore, I was immediately for development between Sydney and Lucie. Rooting for them, the wittily written portrayal of Darnay’s proposal and Lucie’s acceptance before Sydney’s confession caused the audience to sink in empathetic grief. Sydney already believed himself unworthy of anything good, so the immediate denial of something he was so hesitant to show pierced me.
In my opinion, Darnay and Sydney are equally great options for Lucie. Darnay has a good work ethic and heart for those in affliction while Sydney is humble to a fault and willing to sacrifice everything for those he loves. What fascinates me is how the script strategically gave Sydney’s character development more of the spotlight than Darnay’s. While what the audience sees of Darnay alludes to wonderful character, the majority naturally root for Sydney because it is his heart that is presented to us.
Still, Lucie and Darnay were married, leaving Sydney to learn how to live apart from her in the number “If Dreams Came True.” While Sydney did not visit often, he remained a close family friend and a favorite of Lucie’s daughter. From stories and inside jokes to bedtime prayers, they have one of the sweetest relationships to ever grace a stage. Sydney refers to her as his “endless second chance,” which is a consolation for audience members still grieving his initial loss.
With the French revolution underway, Darnay returns to France in response to an old friend’s call for help, a musical decision that had me feeling like he was about to break out “Who Am I?” from Les Miserables. Although Les Mis will forever be my favorite musical, I have to admit that Santoriello’s adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities did a better job portraying the immense hatred between the aristocracy and the peasants. Having seen her musical, the tension that leads up to the schoolboy rebellion in Les Mis holds more meaning.
With Darnay en-route to be executed, it was deemed inevitable that Lucie would be losing her beloved husband. The other characters give up to heartbroken remorse while Sydney stands contemplating the life he could have had with Lucie and, as in the beginning, the torrents of love he still holds for her. He would give up anything up for and—as soon as he confirmed with Barsad the clean entrance and exit into Darnay’s prison cell—I realized what he had in mind.
My mouth fell open.
He’s going to take his place.
Sydney, who was earlier established to look very similar to Darnay, was going to sacrifice his life for the happiness of the woman he loved and her daughter, similar to how Severus Snape’s love for Lily led him to devote his life to the betterment of Harry Potter. Both men gave up what they could have claimed as theirs, but it wasn’t thought of these selfless acts that started me crying five songs before the end.
The last living influence Sydney had was to console a young seamstress, another innocent on her way to death. Encouraged upon learning of Sydney’s selfless sacrifice, she asked if he would do her the favor of holding her hand. Sydney grants her request gladly and says he will hold her hand until the very last.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”— Matthew 28:20b
In the novel, Dickens wrote that no man had ever been as calm at the guillotine as Sydney was. Sydney was so enveloped by his love for Lucie he looked beyond his impending death. For the sake of a blissful childhood for her daughter, Sydney would sacrifice himself. Sydney found it better for him to give up his life than live to see Lucie lost in grief and her daughter fatherless.
And that is what Christ did for us.
As fallen human beings who daily rebel against our Creator, we were sentenced to eternal death, but Jesus stepped in and took our place. His incomprehensible love for us led Him to submit to a brutal and unjust murder. He bore the charge against us, dying as an innocent so anyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.
A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical is a beautiful and moving allegory of this sacrifice, of the lengths that God went to for my undeserving soul.
All of this occurred to me when Sydney confirmed the clean in and out of Darnay’s prison and I, overwhelmed by the love God has shown me, cried all the way to curtain call.
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