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A tale of two reactions

Politics | Dickens and Palin don't go over well at the Times

Issue: "Bleeding economy," Oct. 18, 2008

Not only Sarah Palin is running against The New York Times. So is a new musical that opened on Broadway last month, A Tale of Two Cities.

The Times sneered at the production based on Charles Dickens' novel, particularly its "blasting ballads that let singers prove that they coulda been contenders on American Idol.' Another reviewer, from Toronto, complained about the reaction of apparently ignorant theater-goers: "The audience stood and cheered . . . some even wept."

That's what happened the night I attended. The singing and staging were excellent, and the colorful Dickensian plot moved along and moved attendees. Afterwards, I wasn't surprised to find that most of the 85 online responses to the Times review gave the musical five stars (out of five) and included comments like "the best of times despite The New York Times."

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So why are the Times and its acolytes panning both Palin and this musical? It could be that their taste is more refined than mine and most. Nevertheless, a reviewer from Sarasota, Fla., who followed the production to New York because it had taken its practice swings down south, was puzzled at the "harsh tone" of the negative reviews.

The reviewers' hostility suggests not only a difference in musical taste between critics and audience but vaster differences in attitude: Tale's lyrics, like Palin, display sincerity rather than irony. Ideological differences also may play a part: The musical, following Dickens, shows the plight of poor Parisians but also their brutality once in power. (Obamaist chanters for "change" may not like to be reminded that change can make things worse.)

Or, in-crowd protectiveness may be paramount: Critics called Jill Santoriello, who wrote the new show's book, lyrics, and music, "a novice . . . self-taught . . . unseasoned." Pundits have treated Palin on the national stage the same way. It seems that a person who hasn't spent decades in the Senate and at D.C. dinner parties should not have the effrontery to run for vice president.

Theology also may play a role. The main character in Dickens' novel is reborn as he faces death. Christ's words resonate in his thoughts: "I am the resurrection and the life." The musical does not include that statement but honors the central theme, taken from Christianity, of sacrificing one life to save others. Imagine-a candidate and a musical with a Christian base! Bring on the guillotine.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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