The new Dickens-inspired musical by newcomer composer-lyricist-librettist Jill Santoriello was in the middle of a New York City workshop when director-choreographer David H. Bell told the company Sunday July 24 that he would be leaving the project.
The abrupt departure of Bell, due to "immediate personal problems," according to the producers, leaves Santoriello to continue working with musical director Wendy Cavett and a cast of 33 that Bell had assembled for the current July 8-Aug. 11 workshop.
Bell did not immediately respond to a Playbill.com inquiry.
Producers Barbra Russell, Ron Sharpe and Ron Phelps are seeking a new director-choreographer. They hope to add several weeks to the workshop, perhaps taking a break before restarting, if Equity allows it.
The musical's out-of-town schedule dictates a world premiere on Thursday Feb. 9, 2006 at the Chicago Theatre in Chicago. "That schedule will be respected or be adjusted, depending on the requirements of the new director-choreographer," according to a statement.
The July 8-Aug. 11 workshop in Manhattan was the first time respected director-choreographer Bell (Hot Mikado) got to roll up his sleeves and work with a cast on the book, music and lyrics by Jill Santoriello, who drew from the famed 1859 novel by Charles Dickens.
Previews are scheduled to begin in Chicago on Jan. 31, 2006 (playing to March 4), followed by a hoped-for Broadway berth. No New York theatre was announced for what's billed as an "epic musical" budgeted at $14 million. Actors associated with the show told Playbill.com they were told by the production team that the money is in place.
The producers scheduled a Broadway opening for April 27, following previews from April 11.
With its Les Misérables-sized passion and scope (to say nothing of the cast of 30 or so) the show is seeking a large enough Broadway theatre to support its running costs.
Director-choreographer David H. Bell's many projects over the past 25 years include Ford's Theatre's Elmer Gantry, A Christmas Carol (also adapter) and Hot Mikado (also author) and recent Ford's productions of 1776 and Children of Eden. In Chicago Bell's work has earned 30 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations (winning the award nine times). His work at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre includes Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It and The Comedy of Errors. At the Marriott Theatre, he directed over 30 productions including Matador, Peggy Sue Got Married, Chess, Little Me and Windy City.
The summer workshop cast includes Craig Bennett (Miss Saigon) as Jerry Cruncher, Natalie Toro (Les Misérables) as Madame DeFarge, Nick Wyman (Les Miz) as John Barsad, Ronn Carroll (Steel Pier, Oklahoma!) as Jarvis Lorry, Miles Cath as Little Gaspard, Caroline London as Little Lucie, Joseph Mahowald (Jekyll & Hyde) as Ernest DeFarge, J. Mark McVey (Les Miz) as Dr. Manette, Jenny Powers (Little Women) as Lucie Manette, Aaron Ramey (Thoroughly Modern Millie) as Charles Darnay and newcomer Rob Richardson as selfless Sydney Carton, who gets the famous curtain line, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…"
Of course, the novel does not lack for famous literary lines. Set in London and Paris during the French Revolution, the novel begins, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...."
The workshop company also includes Jane Brockman, Paul Castree (All Shook Up), Jeffery Doornbos, William Thomas Evans (The Scarlet Pimpernel), Tim Hartman, Victor Hawks (Urinetown), Fred Inkley (The Boys From Syracuse), Diana Kaarina (Rent, Thoroughly Modern Millie), Anne Kanengeiser (Little Women), Mark Ledbetter, Sarah Anne Lewis, Mackenzie Mauzy, Katherine McGrath (The Music Man), Les Minski, Rebecca Robbins, Danny Rothman, Alex Santoriello (3 Penny Opera), Wayne Schroder, Timothy Shew (Wonderful Town), Jeremy Stolle and Jennifer Zimmerman (Les Miz).
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. A Tale of Two Cities would seem to want to recapture the rapture.
Producers 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 orchestra and a cast of 20. James Barbour, Gavin Creel, Jenny Powers, Ed Dixon, Nick Wyman, Michelle Dawson and Gary Morris performed in it. Apparently seeing the show as a cousin to Les Miz, the producers enlisted some refugees from the Victor Hugo-inspired pop opera (performers Russell and Sharpe are themselves veterans of Les Miz) in 2004 (and Bell has followed suit in 2005).
By invitation only, the 2004 concert-style presentations were mounted to attract industry interest, including the eyes and ears of theatre owners.
The design team for the production will include Jim Joy (scenic). Wendy Cavett will be musical director. Orchestrations are by Edward Kessel. Barry Moss is casting director.
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 2004, James Barbour (Jane Eyre, Assassins) was selfless Sydney, Jenny Powers (Little Women) was Lucie 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 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 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."