Best of Times: A Tale of Two Cities Opens on Broadway Sept. 18

News   Best of Times: A Tale of Two Cities Opens on Broadway Sept. 18
 
Musical theatre fans hungry for show tunes to be sung in a romantic, historical world will be fed by A Tale of Two Cities, the new musical by Jill Santoriello, opening Sept. 18 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
James Barbour in A Tale of Two Cities
James Barbour in A Tale of Two Cities Photo by Carol Rosegg

Like some of the Dickens characters in the famous epic novel that inspired the show, lyricist-librettist-composer Santoriello, a Broadway newcomer, can be called a fierce monomaniac: She has nurtured a dream of this musical since high school.

"There's a song in the show at the top of the second act called 'Everything Stays the Same' that I wrote when I was 15," she told Playbill Magazine. "I started writing it as a hobby in our rec room, where the piano was."

Now in her forties, with a resume that includes working in programming at Showtime, Santoriello is living her dream, seeing Charles Darnay, Sydney Carton, Madame DeFarge and the rest of the restless folk of the French Revolution singing about the best of times — and the worst of times.

Like Les Misérables before it (technically, Santoriello started the process circa 1986, before Les Miz was a smash musical), here's a period musical teeming with people who reach toward the sunlight of a brighter future. Act One ends with an anthemic song called "Until Tomorrow." And dreamers of London and Paris muse on "The Way It Ought to Be."

Broadway previews for the $16 million A Tale of Two Cities began Aug. 19. James Barbour, the baritone who starred in Broadway's Assassins, Beauty and the Beast, Carousel and Jane Eyre, plays selfless, conflicted hero Sydney Carton in this take on the French Revolution-set 1859 novel by Charles Dickens.

Facing the guillotine in the musical drama, Barbour repeats the role he created in the fall 2007 Florida world premiere of the show. The Broadway production is directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, best known as a choreographer of Encores! shows, and of the recent world premiere Dancing in the Dark.

Carton is the cynic who finds himself in a love triangle with Lucie Manette (played by Brandi Burkhardt) and French aristocrat Charles Darnay (played by Aaron Lazar, late of Les Miz and The Light in the Piazza).

The cast also includes Craig Bennett as Jerry Cruncher, Kevin Earley (Thoroughly Modern Millie) as Ernest Defarge, four-time Tony Award nominee Gregg Edelman (City of Angels, 1776, Anna Karenina, Wonderful Town) as Dr. Alexandre Manette, Michael Hayward-Jones as Jarvis Lorry, Mackenzie Mauzy as The Seamstress, Katherine McGrath as Miss Pross, Les Minski as Marquis St. Evremonde, Natalie Toro (Les Miz) as Madame Therese Defarge, Nick Wyman (Les Miz) as John Barsad, plus Drew Aber, Catherine Brunell (Thoroughly Modern Millie), Alison Cimmet, Jennifer Evans, William Thomas Evans, Randy Glass, Kevin Greene, Michael Halling (In My Life, The Pajama Game), Tim Hartman, Fred Inkley, Georgi James, Miles Kath, Jay Lusteck, Ray McLeod (Wonderful Town), Catherine Missal, James Moye (Meet John Doe), Walter O'Neil, Dan Petrotta, Devin Richards, Rob Richardson, Rebecca Robbins, Jennifer Smith, Anne Tolpegin, Eric Van Tielen, Mollie Vogt-Welch and Alison Walla.

The show was sold out at Asolo Repertory Theater in Sarasota, FL, last year. Tweaks and changes have been ongoing since Broadway previews began (a comedy number set in a graveyard was put to death, and the opening sequence was refined).

According to the producers, "Set against the epic backdrop of the French Revolution…A Tale of Two Cities is a musical about injustice, vengeance and the redemptive power of love. When Dr. Manette is released from the French Bastille after 17 years, he must be resurrected from the brink of madness by his daughter, Lucie. In England they meet two very different men: the exiled French aristocrat, Charles Darnay, whom Lucie marries, and the drunken cynic, Sydney Carton. Soon family secrets and political intrigue combine to draw Lucie and her family back to Paris. At the height of the Reign of Terror, the musical finds an unlikely hero in Carton."

Santoriello had been writing songs inspired by the novel since high school, but it wasn't until she was introduced to young producers Barbra Russell and Ron Sharpe — through her brother Alex, a Broadway actor (now one of the show's producers) — that the prospect of turning her songs into a fully realized musical seemed possible.

"When you start something like that, you dream that it could one day be your full-time job," Santoriello told Playbill.com. "I've never lost my affection for and my inspiration from the story. That's basically why I've been able to not ever give up on it or lose faith in pushing forward with the project, because I just really believed in the story and getting it out there through the musical… There's this theme throughout the show about people's dreams and whether we get to realize them or not. It's a little ironic that this 20-some-odd year dream is coming true, but I guess it's sort of fitting."

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If Santoriello is not yet a household name, the show's title certainly is. The first 12 words of the 19th-century novel are some of the best known in the English language: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…" And a certain guillotine scene offers this famous declaration: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

The novel is required reading in many American schools.

The musical has scenic design by Tony Award winner Tony Walton (Guys and Dolls, The House of Blue Leaves, Pippin). He calls his design a blend of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and the infamous French Bastille (fitting, since the two cities of the 1859 novel are London and Paris). Sharpe said that Walton's striking sets have been enhanced even further for the Broadway run.

The creative team includes David Zinn (costumes), Richard Pilbrow (lights), Carl Casella and Domonic Sack (sound), Tim Watson (hair). Orchestrations are by Edward B. Kessel; arrangements are by Edward B. Kessel, Wendy Bobbitt Cavett, Kevin Stites & Bob Krogstad. Production stage manager is Kim Vernace. Parker Esse is associate choreographer. James Neglia is music coordinator. Christopher C. Smith is technical supervisor.

Music direction and supervision are by Kevin Stites.

A Tale of Two Cities is being produced by Barbra Russell, Ron Sharpe, Bernard Brogan, Sharon A. Fordham, Theatre Associates David Sonnenberg/Rami Evar, The Monagle Group, Joseph J. Grano, Fanok Entertainment, Mary E. Laminack, Nancy & Paul Audet, Jim Barry, Gasperino Entertainment, Vincent Russell, William M. Broderick, Alex Santoriello in association with David Bryant, Spencer Brody, Harry Casey.

Tickets for the Broadway run are available at TeleCharge.com and (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250.

For more information visit www.TaleMusical.com.

Natalie Toro and the cast of <i>A Tale of Two Cities</i>.
Natalie Toro and the cast of A Tale of Two Cities. Photo by Carol Rosegg
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