TALES OF THE CITY almost ready for Broadway

(l)Mary Ann Singleton (Betsy Wolfe, center, blue shirt) is taken to her first disco by her old friend Connie Bradshaw (Julie Reiber, center, purple dress). Photo by Alessandra Mello.

(r) Landlady Anna Madrigal (Judy Kaye) and her friends welcome Mary Ann Singleton to 28 Barbary Lane. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical. Libretto Jeff Whitty, music and lyrics by Jake Shears and John Garden. Based on Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City and More Tales of the City. American Conservatory Theater (ACT), 415 Geary St., San Francisco, CA. (415) 749-2228 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (415) 749-2228 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or www.act-sf.org. May 18 – July 10, 2011

Aristead Maupin's TALES OF THE CITY almost ready for Broadway

It was 35 years ago on May 24, that the first serialized article called Tales of the City appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. It ran five days a week, and within a short time span, The City was agog awaiting each succeeding installment. Whereas the editor of The New Yorker, Harold Ross, proclaimed (paraphrasing) “we are not edited for the old lady in Dubuque”, Chronicle editor Richard Thieriot admonished Maupin not to “offend the people in the Sunset.” Thus, his first gay character, Michael “Mouse”Tolliver did not become a mainstay until six weeks into the story. From that point on the gays were integrated with those who newly arrived, socialites, flower-children hippies and straights. This musical version of Tales has them all, along with Florida’s Anita Bryant of Save Our Children fame.

It is a joyous evening lasting a bit too long at two hours and 45 minutes, but with Maupin’s mostly lovable characters dressed in 1970s costumes (Beaver Bauer), cavorting/choreography (Larry Keigwin) on a brilliant three level set (Douglas W. Schmidt) you will leave the theatre with a glow. The music and lyrics by Jake Shears and John Garden of the glam-rock phenomenon Scissor Sisters (Who??) are newcomers to the musical stage and their music/lyrics are hardly memorable but fit the exuberance of the era and the seven piece band in the pit do a bang up job. Jeff Whitty’s libretto uses vignettes from the original Tales and the second installment More Tales with a minor shift in the plot. It chronicles the excessive exuberant 1970s San Francisco with intertwined universal story lines to grasp your interest allowing you to develop empathy for most and antipathy for others.

It all begins with naïve Clevelander Mary Ann Singleton (Betsy Wolfe) with suitcase in hand (what better way to start a musical comedy) making a phone call to mother announcing she was staying in San Francisco to start “living a new life.” What luck, she is referred to the Russian Hill 28 Barbary Lane establishment of the loveable, motherly mysterious Anna Madrigal (Judy Kaye) who just happens to cultivate marijuana amongst the rhododendrons. In short order we meet the other denizens of the Lane: Heterosexual Brian Hawkins (Patrick Lane), bi-sexual Mona Ramsey (Mary Birdsong), gay Michael “Mouse” Tolliver (Wesley Taylor) and creepy Norman Williams (Manoel Felciano). Away from The Lane, there is advertising tycoon Edgar Halcyon, DeDe Halcyon-Day his spoiled socialite daughter, married to handsome affected, closeted Beauchamp Day (Andrew Samonsky) and gynecologist Jon Fielding (Josh Breckinridge) soon to be “Mouse’s” lover.

There are delightful production numbers including a disco costume ball, “Love Comes Running” and a drag show to the music of "Homosexual Convalescent Center." The director has even thrown in a roller skating (no roller-blades in 1976?) number but he missed the boat in staging the underwear contest at the gay End Up Bar. The tender moments of Anna and the dying Edgar Halcyon ring true but the real pathos that grabs the audience by the throat is “Mouse’s” “Dear Mama” letter coming out as a homosexual to his homophobic mother. There were tears in the eyes of many.

The entire cast is of Broadway quality and Judy Kaye leads the pack with her multi-level performance of a woman hiding her great secret. Mary Birdsong almost steals the show with her raunchy belting of “Crotch.” Betsy Wolfe is not only beautiful with a charming voice but she shows her dancing ability to the tune of “Bolero” and in the production numbers. It is a pity we have to wait until act two to meet foul mouth Mother Mucca (Diane J. Findlay) who stops the show with “Ride ‘em Hard.”

The serial became a hit book and in 1993 gave birth to a highly rated TV miniseries staring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney Just as the San Francisco house in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire became a tourist destination, Maupin’s fictional Russian Hill 28 Barbary Lane (Macondry Lane) is still a tourist destination.. This justifies the assumption that this new musical has national/international interest and should go on to Broadway/London and the world beyond.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com