Prior to New York, producers will test the new French Revolution-era musical (set in London and Paris) at the Chicago Theatre in Chicago starting Jan. 31, 2006. Opening there is Feb. 9.
Producers Barbra Russell, Ron Sharpe and Ron Phelps — putting their faith and their investors' money into well-known Dickens and unknown musical-maker Santoriello — are aiming for a Broadway start of April 11, 2006, and an opening night of April 27. No theatre or casting has been announced.
David H. Bell (the respected director with credits at Ford's Theatre, Pittsburgh CLO, Goodspeed Musicals and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre) will direct and choreograph. Playbill.com has learned James Barbour is in discussions for the role of Sydney Carton.
The lavish historical musical melodrama — boasting a thumping, passionate score of big soaring ballads, angry crowd scenes and necessary comic songs to lighten the tragedy — seemed to disappear with the end of the Broadway run of Les Misérables in 2003.
Russell and Sharpe staged a starry concert production of A Tale of Two Cities in summer 2004 at Off-Broadway's Little Shubert Theatre, with a 20-piece orhestra and a cast of 20. James Barbour, Gavin Creel, Jenny Powers, Ed Dixon, Nick Wyman, Michelle Dawson and Gary Morris performed in it. Seeing the show as a cousin to Les Miz, the producers enlisted some refugees from the pop opera (performers Russell and Sharpe are themselves veterans of the Victor Hugo-inspired epic). Capitalization for the new staging is at $14 million, a spokesperson confirmed. Last summer, Playbill.com reported the budget as $10.5 million.
By invitation only, the Aug. 19-20, 2004, concert-style presentations were mounted to attract industry interest, including the eyes and ears of theatre owners.
The design team will include Gregory Gale (costume) and Jim Joy (scenic). Wendy Cavett will be musical director. Orchestrations are by Edward Kessel. Barry Moss is casting director.
Associate producers include Felicia Lopes, Robert Blume, Mary Laminack, Vincent Russell, Nancy Russell, David Bryant.
"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 2004, James Barbour (Jane Eyre, Assassins) was selfless Sydney Carton, Jenny Powers (Little Women) was Lucy Manette, Gary Morris was Dr. Manette, Gavin Creel (La Cage aux Folles) was Charles Darnay and Michelle Dawson (Ragtime) was corrupt Madame Defarge.
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 (star of M. Night Shyamalan's motion picture "The Village") 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, called 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 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. (Coincidentally, on Aug. 19, 2004, Two Cities, a separate musical version of the story bowed in Stamford, CT.)
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."