Florida's Asolo Will Premiere Broadway-Aimed Tale of Two Cities

News   Florida's Asolo Will Premiere Broadway-Aimed Tale of Two Cities A Tale of Two Cities, American writer Jill Santoriello's new musical take on the Dickens classic, will have its world premiere this fall at the Asolo Repertory Theatre's Mertz stage in Sarasota, FL.
A Tale of Two Cities author Jill Santoriello.
A Tale of Two Cities author Jill Santoriello. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The show is a major coup for the not-for-profit Asolo Rep, which is presenting the production in collaboration with the Broadway-aimed show's commercial producers.

As previously reported, Michael Donald Edwards, Asolo's producing artistic director, is the musical's director. Tony Award winner Thommie Walsh (A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, My One and Only) is the choreographer. Tony Award winner Tony Walton (Guys and Dolls, Grand Hotel, Pippin) is scenic designer.

Asolo and the commercial producers announced the Oct. 13-Nov. 18 staging of the $12 million show March 5. No casting has been announced. The troupe will total about 30.

The long-gestating, serious-minded pop epic in the tradition of Les Misérables was previously announced for an early 2006 commercial launch that never transpired (the producers blamed it on a breakup with another director).

Although A Tale of Two Cities is said to be Broadway-aimed, that goal is contingent on a number of factors — good reviews and an available Broadway theatre, for starters. No Broadway target date has been announced. Two more out-of-town tests beyond Sarasota may happen, the producers said.

The musical has book, music and lyrics by Jill Santoriello, a commercial musical theatre newcomer whose day job for years has been in programming for Showtime Networks. She is an alumnus of The BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, and she's been working on the project — a labor of love — for many years.

Previews for A Tale of Two Cities will begin Oct. 13 toward an Oct. 19 opening at the Asolo main stage, the Mertz Theatre (one of several venues Asolo Rep calls home). It runs to Nov. 18.

The show's Broadway producing team is made up of Russell-Sharpe Productions, Inc. (Barbra Russell and Ron Sharpe) and Sharon A. Fordham (Fordham Entertainment Marketing, LLC).

The creative team includes David Zinn (costumes), Christopher Akerlind (lights) and Sound Associates (sound). Wendy Bobbit Cavett is musical director. Orchestrations are by Edward B. Kessel.

The booking of A Tale of Two Cities is a good thing for Asolo: It will likely draw newcomers to its 2007-08 subscription series, which was also announced March 5.

For more information, call the box office at (941) 351-8000 or (800) 361-8388 or visit www.asolo.org.

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Set during the French Revolution and bouncing between London and Paris, A Tale of Two Cities "is the recounting of one of the most electrifying love stories ever written told against the backdrop of one of the most terrifying eras in human history," according to the producers. "The musical's sweeping score embodies the emotional pyrotechnics that ceaselessly explode throughout the show's breathtaking two hours. This is an emotionally drenched evening that encompasses unconscionable conspiracies, life-threatening schemes, countless betrayals, secret designs, complete political upheaval, pre-meditated mass murder, mob violence, survival against inhuman odds, unconditional love, unrequited love, indescribable love, heroic courage, breathless bravery and human sacrifice."

The first 12 words of the 1859 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. 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 the exiled French aristocrat, Charles Darnay, whom Lucie marries, and the drunken cynic, Sydney Carton. 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.

Director Edwards' 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 took over as producing artistic director of Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota.

In its development, the musical 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.

Santoriello calls the show a traditional book musical that is not all-sung — it's not a pop opera. 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 high-schooler, 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."

Visit www.ataleof2cities.com.

Scenic designer Tony Walton's art for the show curtain.
Scenic designer Tony Walton's art for the show curtain.
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