Dickens Comes Alive in Summer Workshop of Broadway-Bound Tale of Two Cities

News   Dickens Comes Alive in Summer Workshop of Broadway-Bound Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities, the Broadway-bound musical with book, music and lyrics by Jill Santoriello, will be explored in a summer workshop in Manhattan prior to its January 2006 world premiere in Chicago.

Director-choreographer David H. Bell will get his hands on the long-in-development material, drawn from the famed French Revolution-set novel by Charles Dickens. The title towns are Paris and London.

The New York workshop is July 7-Aug. 11. The world premiere Chicago engagement begins Jan. 31 at The Chicago Theatre. The Broadway opening, at a theatre to be announced, is April 27 following previews from April 11.

The production's producers are Barbra Russell, Ron Sharpe and Ron Phelps. Mary Laminack is associate producer.

No casting for the workshop has been announced.

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 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 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 pop opera (performers Russell and Sharpe are themselves veterans of the Victor Hugo-inspired epic).

Capitalization for A Tale of Two Cities is $14 million, a spokesperson confirmed.

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 Gregory Gale (costume) and 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."

It is Carton who utters one of the most famous sentences in literature: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…"

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."

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