A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical will feature one of the largest casts yet for a Bob Jones University musical, including a full orchestra, an expanded student cast and six guest artists that add up to 45 more cast members than the show on Broadway uses.
Live performances for the University family will be March 11-13 at 7:30 p.m., but the production includes options for public viewing, according to Dr. Darren Lawson, dean of the School of Fine Arts and Communication. Tickets not reserved by BJU students, faculty and staff will be offered first to the family and close friends of the cast and crew. Any remaining tickets will be sold to the public, with limited seating planned to be provided for community guests in the balcony as part of the COVID-19 protocols.
“This is the first time we’ve had the Broadway composer sitting in the hall.” -Darren Lawson
All seats are socially distanced, meaning the show can only play to half a full house, Lawson said. Because of this, Lawson negotiated the rights to sell tickets to an online showing. The company owning the rights relaxed its policy to give BJU broadcasting rights due to COVID-19, Lawson said. Anyone who purchases streaming privileges for $14.99 gains 48-hour access to the performance to be filmed and streamed on Friday March 12. Tickets are available at bju.edu/twocities.
Lawson said he stretched the size of the chorus to allow more students to participate, a move he made because of the high level of student interest. BJU’s production will feature about 70 cast members. For comparison, BJU’s production of Titanic: The Musical featured a cast of about 65.
Lawson said using a full-sized orchestra for live music during COVID-19 presented a problem, which he solved by moving the 35 orchestra members to the sound stage for Unusual Films, located in the cinema building connected to Rodeheaver Auditorium. The music will be fed live to the audience, and a live camera feed of the director, Dr. Michael Moore, will direct singers onstage. A screen in front of Moore shows him the action on stage. “It’s going to be an experiment, but I think it’s going to work just fine,” Lawson said.
For Isabel Vosburgh, a senior violin performance major who has been in BJU performances her whole college career, the experiment is working. Vosburgh said the first rehearsal using the distanced setup showed a slight lag in communication because of the space between the orchestra and the actors, but it worked well enough to predict a streamlined performance opening night.
According to Johnathan Swaffer, a sophomore biblical counseling major and the understudy for Dr. Alexandre Manette, watching the director on the screen on the balcony solves the problem of having to sneak glances into the orchestra pit to see the director. Sarai Patino, a biblical counseling grad student in the ensemble and carolers’ group, said she was grateful for a full orchestra despite distancing regulations. “There’s more life there [with the orchestra], but also it’s sad that we don’t have them here with us,” Patino said.
For guest artists Patrick Dunn, playing John Barsad, and Tony Mowatt, playing Dr. Alexandre Manette, the orchestra’s absence from the pit will be a slight change from their earlier experiences on the BJU stage. Both actors were in Titanic: The Musical, and Dunn was in BJU’s first musical, Little Women. Lawson said both were eager to return to BJU, expecting a level of excellence and hospitality from the school’s productions that the other four guest artists for A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical haven’t yet experienced.
Lawson also expects Jill Santoriello, the composer, lyricist and book writer of A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical, as a guest for the performances. According to Lawson, Santoriello has been working closely with him to bring the musical to the BJU stage, and the cast and crew are anticipating her arrival. “This is the first time we’ve had the Broadway composer sitting in the hall,” Lawson said.
Although the guest artists will take on characters rehearsed by their understudies since last semester, all students cast as understudies will appear onstage in other roles for the final performances. This decision to double-cast allows for more student involvement, according to Meetra Moyer, a first-year theatre graduate student and stage manager for the musical. “We refuse to leave anybody behind,” Moyer said.
Rachel Stoner, a junior music education major and the understudy for Lucie Manette, said she was grateful for her first role in a BJU musical. Guest artist Olivia Vadnais will be playing Lucie in the final production, but Stoner will still make her debut in a BJU musical as a part of the ensemble. “I’m really honored and blessed by having this opportunity,” Stoner said.
Karie Jensen, a junior theatre major and assistant director, said the story will wow the audience for its scope as well as its plot. “There’s sacrifice and redemption…and there is hope, and there is life in death,” Jensen said. Although the story is not overtly Christian, Jensen said Christians will not be able to miss the transforming power of love and connect it to the Gospel.
Lawson also said the dynamic character of Sydney Carton illustrates potential for Christians. “Any of us could be in his position…through the saving power of Christ, we can become a hero in the story,” Lawson said.