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Durham Musical Theatre Company premieres A Tale of Two Cities

Times are tough for amateur dramatic compainies but Durham Musical Theatre Company is offering something new as David Whetstone reports

Broadway composer Jill Santoriello (centre) with Durham cast members of A Tale of Two Cities
Broadway composer Jill Santoriello (centre) with Durham cast members of A Tale of Two Cities

One of the region’s longest established musical theatre companies has had international support for its forthcoming northern premiere of A Tale of Two Cities.

The mayors of both London and Paris, Boris Johnson and Bertrand Delanöe, have despatched signed photographs with good luck messages to Durham Musical Theatre Company (DMTC) ahead of its production to be staged next month at the Gala Theatre in Durham.

Of course, the Dickens tale, first published in instalments in the 1850s, is set in both of those cities before and during the French Revolution.

And while the Dickens story is relatively well-known, the musical version is a lesser-known quantity.

The risk involved in any company, professional or amateur, presenting new work is expressed by Anthony Smith of DMTC.

“Unfortunately,” he writes, “many people are unwilling to try a new work without knowing most of the music beforehand.

“This is having a detrimental effect on many groups around who are having to fall back on the tried and tested, so called ‘bums on seats’ shows.

“This in itself is also having a damaging effect as lots of patrons are unwilling to see them again as they have been over-exposed to them.

“This is becoming a vicious circle and I think it could lead to the extinction of many more groups on top of those that have already folded. I am truly fearful for the future of the amateur theatre movement.”

In this context, perhaps it wasn’t so bold of the Durham amateurs to go for A Tale of Two Cities which promises something new and different. The history of this particular show offers another salutary lesson.

The musical, by American musician, composer, lyricist and author Jill Santoriello, was a labour of love which travelled a long and circuitous route to the stage.

It finally opened on Broadway in September 2008, was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle award (that given by critics outside New York) for outstanding new musical but then closed in November 2008 after just 60 performances, a victim of the general financial crash.

Since then it has been performed in other parts of America and also in South Korea, Germany, Canada and Japan.

Recently Jill Santoriello visited the UK to watch the English premiere of her show in Solihull and met members of the Durham company, including musical director Steven Hood. She suggested some alterations to the score which have been made ahead of the northern premiere in Durham.

She told the contingent from Wearside that the show had indeed been a labour of love and she was delighted that several productions were taking place in the UK.

Having already sent her best wishes to the company some time ago, she said she was very pleased with how the production was going and didn’t rule out returning to see the show during its Durham run.

A Tale of Two Cities will be the 144th production of DMTC – founded in 1908 – and its 20th at the Gala.

The show runs there from April 8-12, with performances at 7.15pm and 2.15pm matinées on the Wednesday and Saturday, and tickets can be bought from the box office on 0300 026 6600 or via www.galadurham.co.uk

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