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First-timer tackles Dickens’ ‘Tale’

Santoriello turning sprawling novel into musical

The challenges of adapting Charles Dickens’ sprawling “A Tale of Two Cities” into a stage tuner could make even the most seasoned legit hand think twice before diving in.

Which may explain why the new musical version of “Tale,” the first large-scale Rialto offering of the fall, was single-handedly undertaken by a tyro.

Jill Santoriello — don’t look for prior theatrical credits; she doesn’t have any — has nursed the project into existence since the mid-1980s, penning music, lyrics and book.

A New Jersey native, Santoriello got hooked on Broadway musicals in the early ’80s and, as a teenager, decided she wanted to write a musical — initially “Wuthering Heights,” although that soon shifted to its public-domain compatriot, “Tale.”

Her musical training is almost entirely informal, having taught herself to play piano by ear. “I still, to this day, can really only read the treble clef,” she says.

While she worked on the show in her free time, her day job was in TV programming (largely original movies and docs) at Showtime. That cabler’s prexy of entertainment, Robert Greenblatt, is producing a new tuner that also will land on Broadway this season, “9 to 5.”

“Small world,” Santoriello says. “Bob was my boss.”

Over the past several years, “Tale” has bounced around Gotham in various reading presentations aiming to attract backers. Once Santoriello and newbie producers Barbra Russell and Ron Sharpe hit on the 90-minute showcases of songs and narration that best attracted investors, the production gained steam, bowing at Florida’s Asolo Rep last fall ahead of its Rialto run. The show is in previews and opens Sept. 18.

Capitalization costs, adding up to around $16 million, were raised from entirely new investors, many of whom are from the Jersey area, where Santoriello, her producers, her orchestrator and her marketer all have roots.

“There’s tons of Jersey in this show,” she says.

And adds, to clarify: “That’s a good thing.”