One big happy family – that is the vibe emanating from the rehearsal stage as the cast of this year’s musical, A Tale of Two Cities, works to perfect its performance. This epic story is based on the masterpiece by Charles Dickens and is filled with peasants, aristocrats, revolution, laughter, sadness, a love triangle, and so much more.  After years in development, A Tale of Two Cities finally reached Broadway in 2008.  It closed after three months and 60 shows. Reviews were favorable, and the show received many nominations and awards. Principia College has decided to take on the momentous task of being the first college or university to perform this musical.  This decision got the attention of the show’s playwright, Jill Santoriello, who will be present at the opening and second night showings.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled that A Tale of Two Cities is having its first college production at Principia,” said Santoriello. “Chrissy Steele and Joe Van Riper have been so great to work with and I’m really looking forward to traveling out to Elsah to visit the college and see the show. Every new production is exciting for me  – with a whole new creative team and cast bringing the show to life – so I can’t wait to see what the team at Principia does with it!” With 40 actors and 25 musicians, “I think this might be the biggest production I have ever been involved in,” said Patrick McCreary of the theater and dance department at Principia College, “And I have been involved [in] over 150 productions.”

Senior Kendra Scott rehearses an emotional solo during one of many run-throughs. photo / Rigel Valentine

A Tale of Two Cities centers around two men fighting for the love of one beautiful woman while France is in the midst of a bloody revolution. Charles Darnay (played by junior Kyle Whitney) and drunkard Sydney Carton (junior Hunter Hoffman), fight for the love of Lucie Manette (freshman Anneke Reed and senior Kirsty Rivett performing the role in rotation on alternate nights), while Ernest Defarge (junior Dana Gaubatz) and Madame Defarge (senior Kendra Scott alternating with junior Priscilla Alarcon) lead the French in a revolution against the aristocracy. The story follows the Manette family and how they become intertwined in the revolution.

The Principia College production has been in the making since auditions were held in January. Chrissy Steele, director of this year’s musical, said: “We cast it so far back so the leads could work on their music and voice lessons all winter quarter. Everyone also had scripts, so when we got back at the start of spring quarter we were able to dive right into it.”  Since there are not very many female lead roles in this play, the parts of Lucie and Madame Defarge had to be double-cast. Rivett and Reed will play Lucie, and Alarcon and Scott will play Madame Defarge. As Steele explains it, “We have so many talented singer-actors right now, and I wanted to give opportunities to some of the younger actors.  Kirsty and Kendra are both seniors, and I wanted to give them a role that they are wonderful in.  But Priscilla, who is a junior, and Anneke, who is a freshman, both did a wonderful job in the auditions, and I want to give them an opportunity too.” Not only are these actors singing and dancing, they are also performing to a live orchestra, which will be conducted by Dr. Marie Jureit-Beamish.

Joe Van Riper di- rects the ensemble during a rehearsal. photo / Rigel Valentine

This play utilizes one of the larger casts in Principia history. However, junior Dana Gaubatz feels this is one of the closest casts of his career.  “I have been in a lot of musicals throughout my career as an actor, and in most plays there have been cliques of actors within the cast.  Because of how this play is set up and how we have utilized all of our chorus members and how everyone is intertwined with the main characters, there is a great sense of a family as a whole…it really is like one big family,” said Gaubatz,  “This is great because each actor can connect with every other actor, which in turn makes the play run smoother and gives the audience a great show.”

Cast members Teddy Hoffman, Ben Frederick, Ali Vice and Nick Trapp run through a scene. photo / Rigel Valentine

Hoffman, who plays Sydney Carton, discussed his favorite scene:  “I really like the tavern scene because it has the overall atmosphere of a pub… it is a lot of fun to be up there and making fools of ourselves,” said Hoffman. He continued, “Everyone should come to the show because it is going to be really great.” The cast of A Tale of Two Cities has put over a hundred hours into the making of this musical so far. There have been difficult moments and ups as well as downs. However, they are well on their way to showing the audience that this really has been “the best of times.”

The musical will be presented during Week 8 (May 19-21) in Cox Auditorium. Thursday and Friday performances are at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday’s performances are at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.  Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students. Tickets will be sold at the door and at the Info Booth in the concourse, and for the first time, tickets can be purchased online through Principia Marketplace on the College website. Theater doors open 30 minutes before show time.

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