Broadway-Aimed Tale of Two Cities Gets New Director, Loses Chicago Tryout, Looks Ahead

News   Broadway-Aimed Tale of Two Cities Gets New Director, Loses Chicago Tryout, Looks Ahead
 
A large-cast musical version of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" would seem to suggest an experience with a lush score, visual sweep and emotions at an operatic pitch.

Michael Donald Edwards
Michael Donald Edwards

The stuff of opera, no? Who ya gonna call to direct it?

The producers of the new Broadway-aimed A Tale of Two Cities, the musical by newcomer composer- lyricist-librettist Jill Santoriello, have snagged a director who knows from operatic pitch — Michael Donald Edwards.

His directing resume includes The Barber of Seville and Aida for the Metropolitan Opera, new productions of Un Ballo in Maschera and Carmen for Opera San Jose, and many resident opera, musical and play stagings around the country and in his native Australia (at The Australian Opera, among other companies).

In July 2006, the busy Edwards will take over as producing artistic director of Asolo Theatre Festival in Sarasota, Florida, but not before A Tale of Two Cities is developed by him toward its long-promised Broadway bow, probably in fall 2006, if a theatre is available.

Playbill.com learned of Edwards' commitment to Tale Nov. 10. A choreographer, design team, production time frame and cast have not been announced, but Edwards' signing indicates that the recently rudderless show, which lost its first director in July, wasn’t all at sea, after all. As expected, the previously announced Jan. 31, 2006, world premiere tryout start for the show at the Chicago Theatre in Chicago has been scrapped, as have the spring 2006 Broadway dates (no theatre was announced, anyway). It’s not yet clear if the future production plan might include a regional tryout prior to Broadway.

The hiring of Edwards, who is currently associate artistic director at Syracuse Stage in upstate New York, comes after three months of limbo for the Dickens-inspired project.

The producers parted ways with their original director-choreographer, David H. Bell, in July due to his "immediate personal problems," they said at the time. Bell called it a health issue. A search for a new director began, throwing the producers' January tryout plans into question.

The producers of A Tale of Two Cities are Ron Sharpe, Barbra Russell, Sharon Fordham, Donald Warner, William Broderick, Ron Phelps and Mary Laminack. Despite lacking a director, they hosted a two-day, three- performance private presentation for the show's investors Sept. 29-30 in Manhattan.

The $14 million epic musical will have a cast of about 30. The money for the project is apparently in place; cast members were told last summer that the show is fully financed, and then some.

An Edwards-run workshop of A Tale of Two Cities is expected to be put together in the coming weeks, laying the groundwork for a future full production.

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Despite the summer loss of the first director, late-September private presentations of the musical were designed by the show's marketing director, Sharon Fordham. The festivities included "three performance/readings, lavish cuisine, elaborate goody-bags and meet-and-greets with the cast, creators and production team," according to an earlier statement.

The private readings were for the investors only, although the show's group sales and marketing teams were also present.

The performances were presented under the musical direction of Wendy Cavett and featured James Barbour as Sydney Carton, J. Mark McVey as Dr. Alexandre Manette, Jenny Powers as Lucie Manette, Cheyenne Jackson as Charles Darnay, Tim Hartman as Mr. Jarvis Lorry, Craig Bennett as Jerry Cruncher, Mary Stout as Miss Pross, Nick Wyman as John Barsad, Rob Richardson as Ernest DeFarge, Natalie Toro as Madame Therese DeFarge, Caroline London as Little Lucie, Miles Kath as Little Gaspard, Alex Santoriello as Marquis St. Evremonde, William Thomas Evans as Attorney General, Jeffrey Doornbos as Gaspard, Danny Rothman as Gabelle, Wayne Schroder as C.J. Stryver, Robin Skye as Vengeance and Mackenzie Mauzy as The Seamstress.

The ensemble included Mark Ledbetter, Paul Castree, Victor Hawks, Les Minski, Fred Inkley, Tim Shew, Johnathan Hammond, Diana Kaarina, Rebecca Robbins, Anne Kanengeiser, Jane Brockman, Kristin Contrino and Melissa Daniels.

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The novel "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859) is required reading in many American schools. "Set against the epic backdrop of the French Revolution and based on the classic Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities is a sweeping musical about injustice, vengeance and the redemptive power of love," according to the announcement last summer. "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, inspired by love to make an extraordinary sacrifice."

In its development, A Tale of Two Cities was a finalist in the Eugene O'Neill Center Musical Theatre Workshop and was heard in a premiere symphonic concert in Indianapolis featuring a 40-piece orchestra and a 50- voice chorale (narrated by Richard Kiley).

A 23-track concept recording of the musical was released in 2002 and is currently available throughout the U.S. and Europe. The CD features 56 vocalists including Bryce Dallas Howard and such Broadway performers as Paul Castree, J. Mark McVey, Christiane Noll, Peter Samuel, Alex Santoriello, Tim Shew, Natalie Toro and Nick Wyman, as well as musicians from the Indianapolis Symphony and New Jersey Philharmonic Orchestra.

Writer Santoriello, whose day job is original programming development at Showtime, calls the show a traditional book musical that is not all-sung — though a casual listener of the concept recording will hear music and lyrics in the lush pop tradition of Les Miz, Jane Eyre, The Phantom of the Opera and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Santoriello said she was captivated by the novel in her teen years. A fan of the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition (and later of Stephen Sondheim), Santoriello said she thought years ago (when she was a teenager, in fact) that "A Tale of Two Cities" would make a great musical.

She wasn't alone. There have been countless international musical versions of the story over the past century, though none has become a widely-known commercial hit.

In 1987, Santoriello, who is a self-taught musician, used songs she wrote for a formative version of the show to audition and get into the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. There was no script at that point. She didn't plan to be her own librettist, it just happened out of necessity, she said.

What about "A Tale of Two Cities" speaks most strongly to Santoriello?

"Love being stronger than hate," the writer previously told Playbill.com. "And how heroes come out of the strangest places."

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