Gary Morris, the Grammy Award-winning country music singer who appeared in Broadway's Les Misérables, will star as Dr. Manette in Aug. 19-20 industry presentations of Jill Santoriello's musical, A Tale of Two Cities, drawn from the Charles Dickens novel.
Guy Stroman directs the first New York presentation of what's billed as "the Broadway-bound epic new musical " that has book, music and lyrics by the unknown award winning musical theatre writer Santoriello. The aim is for Broadway, but no plan or schedule has been revealed. Producers Barbra Russell & Ron Sharpe, former Les Miz stars who fell in love with the project after they performed on a demo recording of it, are seeking funding for the project.
The ambitious, large-company presentations — directed by Guy Stroman and boasting a cast of 23 and an orchestra of 16 — are 3 PM Aug. 19 and 1 PM Aug. 20 at Off-Broadway's The Little Shubert at 422 W. 42nd Street. Admission is by invitation only. The goal is to catch the eyes and ears of theatre owners.
"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. "When Dr. Manette (Gary Morris) is released from the French Bastille after 17 years, he must be resurrected from the brink of madness by his daughter, Lucie. 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 the drunken cynic, Sydney Carton, inspired by love to make an extraordinary sacrifice."
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 1999 demo recording will hear music and lyrics in the lush pop tradition of Les Miz, The Phantom of the Opera and The Scarlet Pimpernel. The presentations (representing the entire show) will feature musical direction by Wendy Bobbitt Cavett (current musical director for the Las Vegas production of Mamma Mia!) and orchestrations by Edward B. Kessel and Bob Krogstad.
Santoriello was captivated by the novel in her teens years, and wrote some songs for it as a hobby. A fan of the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition (and later of Stephen Sondheim), 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.
In 1987, Santoriello, who is a self-taught musician, used songs from 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 said. "And how heroes come out of the strangest places."
About five years ago she met her current producers when she was putting together an early demo recording for the show.
Producers Barbra Russell and Ron Sharpe are a husband and wife team who are producers as well as performers. Together they have produced the CDs "Sweethearts," "Ed Dixon Sings Ed Dixon," the children's CD "The Laughing Ground" (with narration by Stacy Keach) and the concept album for "A Tale of Two Cities." As an actress, Russell has played Cosette in Les Misérables and the leads in Little Shop of Horrors, Oklahoma!, Side by Side by Sondheim, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and The Fantasticks. Sharpe is the only actor to have played both male lead roles of Marius and Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. Other Broadway credits include the original productions of The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Civil War and Disney's King David.
The show's developmental process included being selected as a finalist in the Eugene O'Neill Center Musical Theatre Workshop and a premiere symphonic concert in Indianapolis featuring a 40-piece orchestra and a 50-voice chorale, narrated by Richard Kiley.
The musical A Tale of Two Cities received grants from the states of New Jersey and Florida and was chosen as a finalist in the International Musical Theater Competition in Los Angeles.
A 23-track concept recording of the musical was released in 2002 and is currently available in the U.S. and Europe. The CD features 56 vocalists including Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of director Ron 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.
For more information on A Tale of Two Cities, visit the official website at www.ataleof2cities.com.
Santoriello is composer, writer and lyricist who currently works in original programming at Showtime. She is the recipient of fellowship grants from the states of New Jersey and Florida for her work on A Tale of Two Cities, which is her first musical. The song "If Dreams Came True" from the musical was chosen as one of four best song finalists in the First International Musical of the Year competition. The West Coast Musical Theatre Conference and The O'Neill Center Theater Conference have also recognized the show. She is an alumnus of the BMI and ASCAP Music Theatre Workshops.
Stroman directed the world premieres of Free Fall, written by and starring Sandy Duncan, at The Berkshire Theatre Festival, and Sugar Down Billie Hoak, Off-Broadway at the Theatre at St. Peter's. He has directed productions with stars ranging from Lynn Redgrave and Rachel Kempson to Jean Stapleton and Joy Behar. As an actor, he originated the role of Frankie in Forever Plaid in New York, London and Los Angeles, where he won best acting awards from the L.A. Drama Critics and Drama-Logue. He has since directed and choreographed several long-running companies of Forever Plaid.
Morris made his theatrical debut starring opposite Linda Ronstadt in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of La Bohéme, earning a Drama Desk nomination as Outstanding Actor in a Musical. He made his Broadway debut in Les Misérables, becoming the first American to play the lead role of Jean Valjean. His performance was captured on the musical's Grammy Award-winning "Complete Symphonic Recording."