Utah welcomes playwright's 'baby'

Feb 10 2011 - 10:14pm

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Jill Santoriello
Jill Santoriello

Composer and playwright Jill Santoriello was thrilled when she learned that her "baby" would wake up in Utah.

Her musical "A Tale of Two Cities" opens for its regional premiere Wednesday at Hale Centre Theatre's state-of-the-art theater in the round in West Valley City.

"Every time there is a new production of the show, it's like your baby that has been sleeping comes back to life and it's a great thing," Santoriello said. "I was also thrilled that it was going to be in the round, which is extremely challenging but very exciting. I think it is going to open up a whole different way of looking at the show."

The show, which had a short run on Broadway in 2008, has been performed in high school and community theaters in the East, but this is the first time it has been produced in the West, Santoriello said.

Kyle Olsen, who is double-cast as Sydney Carton in the show, said the cast makes entrances and exits from the ceiling, on bridges, up from the rotating floor, and up and down the aisles by the surrounding audience.

They take full advantage of the theater's capabilities, he said.

"They want to keep the show going and they don't even want blackouts," said Olsen. "One scene will end, and the stage will spin and, all of the sudden, you are somewhere else."

The musical debuted on Broadway in August 2008, just three days before the U.S. stock market fell sharply.

"All of the sudden, nobody was buying tickets to Broadway," Santoriello said. Lukewarm reviews didn't help, and the show closed after 60 performances and 33 previews.

It did earn an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for Outstanding New Musical in 2009, in addition to three Drama Desk Award nominations. There is a Broadway soundtrack, which has been adapted into a PBS concert version narrated by Michael York, and international interest is growing in Europe and Japan, Santoriello said.

As a 12-year-old in New Jersey, Santoriello fell in love with "A Tale of Two Cities" after seeing the 1935 movie starring Ronald Colman as Sidney Carton.

Although she had written a few songs inspired by the story prior to graduation from college, Santoriello didn't start working seriously on the musical until around 1990. She turned to the Dickens classic after giving up on a draft of a musical based on "Wuthering Heights." She decided she wasn't passionate about that idea because the story's ending was too dark.

"My brother pointed out to me that at the end of 'Wuthering Heights,' everybody is dead and no one is happy," Santoriello said. "There is just nothing redemptive about that story."

But there is a redemptive message in "A Tale of Two Cities," and that is where Santoriello directed her creative energies.

Santoriello hopes Utah audiences will enjoy her take on the tale, which is directed by John Sweeney. She especially loves the relationship between Sidney Carton and Lucie Manette, and how Manette changes the course of Carton's life.

"She reaches out to him and shows him that there is something better in him that he is not capable of seeing," Santoriello said. "She convinces him that he can be a better man and he can change his life. It takes him a while to really believe that and to see that he does have the potential to change and change the world. And that ultimately is where the story takes it."

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