Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tales of the City "Bites Into That Lotus" As New Musical Opens in San Francisco May 31

By Adam Hetrick
31 May 2011

Judy Kaye
Photo by Kevin Berne
A Midwestern transplant named Maryann Singleton answers an ad to rent a secluded one-bedroom apartment on Russian Hill and is handed the keys to a new life at the mythical address of 28 Barbary Lane. So begins Armistead Maupin's San Francisco-set work Tales of the City, which takes on a new life of its own as a world-premiere musical opening May 31 at the American Conservatory Theatre.


Tony Award-winning Avenue Q book writer Jeff Whitty adapted the stage production, based on the first two novels in Maupin's series, which trace the intertwining lives of colorful San Francisco residents in the 1970's. Jake Shears and John "JJ" Garden, of the glam-pop band the Scissor Sisters, authored the score for Tales of the City.

Tony Award nominee Jason Moore (Shrek, Avenue Q, Steel Magnolias) directs the production that began previews May 18 and will play an extended run through July 10. Choreography is by Larry Keigwin.


Playbill.com spoke with Shears and Garden on their process for writing Tales of the City. "I think both of us made a conscious decision not to limit ourselves to a kind of '70s pastiche," Shears said. "My view on the books is that they are very timeless and that's why we're making this show now. It's also why people still read them and they're still in print. It's just a timeless story. I wanted the music to feel timeless as well. Our songwriting already leans into that sort of '70s song craft as it is. So, I thought it was really necessary not to overthink that aspect, and to just set out to write songs naturally and that's what we've done."

Tony Award winner Judy Kaye (The Phantom of the Opera, On the Twentieth Century, Souvenir) leads the cast as enigmatic pot-smoking landlady Anna Madrigal, with Betsy Wolfe (Everyday Rapture, 110 in the Shade) as Ohio native Mary Ann Singleton, Mary Birdsong (Martin Short Fame Becomes Me, "Reno 911") as the free-spirited Mona Ramsay and Wesley Taylor (Rock of Ages, The Addams Family) as Michael "Mouse" Tolliver.

Both Wolf and Birdsong have been part of Tales of the City since its early development during the 2009 Eugene O'Neill Theater Center Musical Theater Conference.

Josh Breckenridge and Wesley Taylor
photo by Kevin Berne
Tales of the City also features Tony Award nominee Manoel Felciano (Sweeney Todd) as Norman Neal Williams, Matthew Saldivar (Grease) as Brian Hawkins, Richard Poe (Cry-Baby) as Edgar Halcyon, Kathleen Monteleone (Legally Blonde) as Dede Halcyon-Day, Andrew Samonsky (South Pacific) as Beauchamp Day, Josh Breckenridge (Scottsboro Boys) as Jon Fielding, Diane J. Findlay as Mother Mucca and Alex Hsu as Lionel.

The ensemble includes Keith Bearden, Kris Cusick, Kimberly Jensen, Stuart Marland, Pamela Myers, Julie Reiber and Josh Walden.

Check out Playbill.com's photo gallery of the colorful denizens of 28 Barbary Lane.

The production has scenic design by Douglas W. Schmidt, costume design by Beaver Bauer, lighting design by Robert Wierzel, sound design by John Shivers, orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin and arrangements by Steven Oremus. Carmel Dean serves as music supervisor, with Cian McCarthy as music director and conductor.

Here's how ACT bills the work: "On the bustling streets of 1970s San Francisco, neon lights pierce through the fog-drenched skies, disco music explodes from crowded nightclubs, and a wide-eyed Midwestern girl finds a new home — and creates a new kind of family — with the characters at 28 Barbary Lane. Three decades after Armistead Maupin mesmerized millions with his daily column in the city's newspapers, detailing the lives and (multiple) loves of Mary Ann, Mouse, Mona, Brian, and their beloved but mysterious landlady Mrs. Madrigal, his iconic San Francisco saga comes home as a momentous new musical."

"Tales of the City" has also been adapted into several television miniseries featuring performances by Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney, Chloe Webb, Parker Posey, Marcus D'Amico, Donald Moffat, Thomas Gibson, Barbara Garrick, Nina Foch, Paul Gross, Stanley DeSantis and Philip Moon.

The cast of Tales of the City.
photo by Alessandra Mello


For tickets call (415) 749-2228 or visit ACT-SF.


http://www.playbill.com/news/article/151275-Tales-of-the-City-Bites-Into-That-Lotus-As-New-Musical-Opens-in-San-Francisco-May-31?sms_ss=facebook&at_xt=4de4fb7cc6cb9ac1%2C0

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Andrew Samonsky

Meet Andrew Samonsky, who plays Beauchamp Day. Click here to read his official bio.


NAME Andrew Samonsky.

CHARACTER Beauchamp Day.

HOMETOWN Ventura, California.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE My earliest theater memories are when my parents would take me to see musicals at PCPA Theaterfest’s outdoor theater in Solvang, California. Great memories.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE In Verona, Italy, I got to see Rigoletto in an ancient 35,000-seat coliseum. I can only compare it to a Yankees game. It was the grandest production I’ve ever witnessed, and the voices were unbelievable. Those Italians love their opera.
FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Honestly, the first time I heard of Tales of the City was when I got an audition for this production. Now, I constantly see Armistead Maupin’s books everywhere!

HOW ARE YOU LIKE BEAUCHAMP? We’ve both lived in San Francisco. That’s all I’ll admit to with Beauchamp Day.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Sweeney Todd

FAVORITE SONG TO SING In the car? Anything on the Stranger album by Billy Joel.

EDUCATION B.A. in music from Cal State Northridge. M.F.A. in acting from UC Irvine.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: a cup of coffee before the show (lots of cream and sugar). Post-: a big bowl of cereal when I get home (currently Frosted Mini-Wheats).

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM Do wide collars count?

http://blog.act-sf.org/2011/05/tales-of-cast-meet-andrew-samonsky.html

Friday, May 27, 2011

Readers contest: 'Chronicles of the Bay'

May 22, 2011


More than 30 years ago, Armistead Maupin invented a bunch of characters who depicted the richly colorful life of San Francisco in his singular "Tales of the City" books. This month, those magical books will take on a new dimension as the basis for a world-premiere musical at the American Conservatory Theater.

Imagine if you were to write a novel about characters in your Bay Area town or city whose lives reflected what life is like today in Oakland, Orinda, Santa Rosa or Los Gatos, to name a few. Maybe you'd call it "Chronicles of the Bay."

We are asking readers to write an opening chapter of a novel set in your own city or town in the 21st century, with characters who reflect what makes your community unique. It should be in your own voice - not an attempt to imitate Armistead Maupin, who, after all, is inimitable.

The entries should be 250 to 300 words and must be submitted online only by June 13. The first-place winner will receive a voucher for a pair of tickets to "Tales."

Please e-mail your entries to pinkletters@sfchronicle.com or datebook@sfchronicle.com. We cannot accept entries submitted by mail.


http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-05-22/entertainment/29580170_1_chronicles-magical-books-armistead-maupin

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone

Meet Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, who plays DeDe Halcyon-Day. Click here to read her official bio.

NAME Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone.

CHARACTER DeDe.

HOMETOWN Portland, Oregon.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE Best Christmas Pageant Ever in sixth grade.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE Coming home to Portland with the national tour of Legally Blonde. I loved performing for my hometown.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Reading the script for the audition.

HOW ARE YOU LIKE DEDE? I’m married :) and I would also eat donuts at a low point.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Not a musical, but I love August: Osage County.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING Anything country. Country music always makes it seem like its sunny outside.

EDUCATION B.A. in acting with a minor in musical theater from Marymount Manhattan College.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: work out and steam (pretty normal). Post-: depends on the night!

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM I have a bracelet I got at a shop in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I always think, “I would have worn this to Studio 54.”


http://blog.act-sf.org/2011/05/tales-of-cast-meet-kathleen-elizabeth.html

Thursday, May 26, 2011

ACT Presents TALES OF THE CITY, 6/1 - 7/10

Thursday, May 26, 2011; Posted: 12:05 PM - by BWW News Desk

According to the SF Gate, San Francisco audiences are excitedly anticipating the arrival of the musical, ARMISTEAD MAUPIN'S TALES OF THE CITY that will open June 1 at the American Conservatory Theater.  First serialized in The Chronicle, Armistead Maupin's bittersweet novel "Tales of the City," is set in San Francisco and consists of interlaced stories of dewy-eyed newcomers and dissolute social climbers, gay coming-out stories and paisley-clad hippies. The story captures the era of the mid-'70s in San Francisco, complete with disco and drugs, fern bars and pickup night at the Marina Safeway, as well as feelings of hope, heartbreak, innocence and laughter.

The ACT production, aimed at Broadway but with no up-front commercial backers or specific New York plans at the moment, is a big-budget undertaking at $2.5 million. Jeff Whitty, author of the ebullient "Avenue Q," wrote the book. Fellow "Avenue Q" alum Jason Moore ("Shrek: The Musical," an early collaboration on "The Book of Mormon") is directing. The glam-rock band Scissor Sisters signed on to write the music and lyrics.  The set, which features a lofty set of stairs and landings at 28 Barbary Lane, is by Broadway vet Douglas Schmidt. The cast includes plenty of names with major theatrical street cred. They include Judy Kaye as Anna Madrigal, Betsy Wolfe as Cleveland transplant Mary Ann Singleton, Wesley Taylor as the book's gay lead Michael "Mouse" Tolliver and Mary Birdsong as bisexual Mona Ramsey.

ACT artistic director Carey Perloff committed to the project after attending an early workshop. "I loved Armistead's book so much," she told SF Gate. "There are so many Mary Anns who come here from Cleveland and everywhere else and say, 'This is my story.' "

Whitty, 39, had what he calls his "lightning-bolt moment" when he watched the "Tales" miniseries on a plane to London almost five years ago. "This is how a musical begins," he said of the book's opening, in which 25-year-old Mary Ann arrives in San Francisco. "You put a character into a new environment and see what happens to her." Director Moore, 40, agreed, comparing the story's musical-friendly premise to that of "My Fair Lady" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

Songwriters Jake Shears, 32, and John Garden, 36, said they jumped at the chance to write their first musical. "Especially this one," said the voluble Shears. "I read the book when I was 13, before I even knew I was gay, and loved it." He and Garden got to work right away, writing "Tales" songs between Scissor Sisters shows in London, New York, Berlin and elsewhere. The first number they wrote, "Plus One," is still in the show.

Whitty had the daunting task of whittling his 180-page script down to something that could be managed on stage and enjoyable to an audience. "The hardest part was getting the flow," Whitty told SF Gate. "I see this as one 2 hour and 40 minute song."

To view this story in full, click here

ARMISTEAD MAUPIN'S TALES OF THE CITY's previews end next Sun. The show will run from June 1 to July 10 at the  American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. $40-$127. (415) 749-2228. For more information, please visit:  www.act-sf.org.

http://sanfrancisco.broadwayworld.com/article/ACT-Presents-TALES-OF-THE-CITY-61-710-20110526

PHOTO CALL: Tales of the City, With Judy Kaye, Wesley Taylor, Betsy Wolfe, Premieres in San Francisco

By Matthew Blank
26 May 2011

Armistead Maupin's novel series Tales of the City, about the eccentric inhabitants of the enchanting San Francisco residence of 28 Barbary Lane, comes to life as a new musical at the American Conservatory Theatre.

Directed by Tony Award nominee Jason Moore (Shrek, Avenue Q, Steel Magnolias), the musical is based on the first two novels in Maupin's series, which trace the intertwining lives of colorful San Francisco residents in the 1970's. Tales of the City will officially open May 31 and play an extended run through July 10.

Here's how ACT bills the work: "On the bustling streets of 1970s San Francisco, neon lights pierce through the fog-drenched skies, disco music explodes from crowded nightclubs, and a wide-eyed Midwestern girl finds a new home — and creates a new kind of family — with the characters at 28 Barbary Lane. Three decades after Armistead Maupin mesmerized millions with his daily column in the city's newspapers, detailing the lives and (multiple) loves of Mary Ann, Mouse, Mona, Brian, and their beloved but mysterious landlady Mrs. Madrigal, his iconic San Francisco saga comes home as a momentous new musical."

Here is a first look at the show:

Best friends Mona Ramsey (Mary Birdsong) and Michael "Mouse" Tolliver (Wesley Taylor)move back in together at 28 Barbary Lane. Photo by Kevin Berne
View the entire gallery here

Tony Award winner Judy Kaye (The Phantom of the Opera, On the Twentieth Century, Souvenir) leads the cast as enigmatic pot-smoking landlady Anna Madrigal, with Betsy Wolfe (Everyday Rapture, 110 in the Shade) as Midwestern transplant Mary Ann Singleton, Mary Birdsong (Martin Short Fame Becomes Me, "Reno 911") as the free-spirited Mona Ramsay and Wesley Taylor (Rock of Ages, The Addams Family) as Michael "Mouse" Tollivar.

Tales of the City also features Tony Award nominee Manoel Felciano (Sweeney Todd) as Norman Neal Williams, Matthew Saldivar (Grease) as Brian Hawkins, Richard Poe (Cry-Baby) as Edgar Halcyon, Kathleen Monteleone (Legally Blonde) as Dede Halcyon-Day, Andrew Samonsky (South Pacific) as Beauchamp Day, Josh Breckenridge (Scottsboro Boys) as Jon Fielding, Diane J. Findlay as Mother Mucca and Alex Hsu as Lionel.

The ensemble includes Keith Bearden, Kris Cusick, Kimberly Jensen, Stuart Marland, Pamela Myers, Julie Reiber and Josh Walden.

"Tales of the City" has also been adapted into several television miniseries featuring performances by Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney, Chloe Webb, Parker Posey, Marcus D'Amico, Donald Moffat, Thomas Gibson, Barbara Garrick, Nina Foch, Paul Gross, Stanley DeSantis and Philip Moon.

For tickets call (415) 749-2228 or visit ACT-SF.




http://www.playbill.com/news/article/151212-PHOTO-CALL-Tales-of-the-City-With-Judy-Kaye-Wesley-Taylor-Betsy-Wolfe-Premieres-in-San-Francisco

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Richard Poe

Meet Richard Poe, who plays Edgar Halcyon.  Click here to read his official bio.

NAME Richard Poe.

CHARACTER Edgar Halcyon.

HOMETOWN Pittsburg, California.


FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE Playing Scrooge in the eighth grade (magnificent!).

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE Hard to choose. Journey’s End on Broadway: nine guys in a dark World War I dugout talking for two and a half hours, and everyone dies . . . then winning every available award in New York, including the Easter bonnet competition. 1776 on Broadway: more guys, more talking, more light, same result. Cyrano de Bergerac at A.C.T. in 1973, playing Second Musician/Third Cadet, being a novice in the middle of all that wonderfulness. There’s more. Just ask me.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES I lived in San Francisco until about 1977 (graduated from the University of San Francisco [USF] and started acting at A.C.T.). I had never read the books until this show came up. What a walk down memory lane! I had no money then and was always scrambling for odd jobs, but what a city! It’s really exciting and a little unnerving to come back for a while—like I’ll see my old self passing in the street.

HOW ARE YOU LIKE EDGAR? Though I’m told in the business that I have a patrician quality, I’m pretty far from the manor born. But I like to think I can fake it when need be, and Edgar knows he’s been faking it when he realizes his number’s up and that he’s denied himself so much. I have lots of me that would like to bust loose in new ways. I just hope I don’t suffer Edgar’s plight before I do it.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Sweeney Todd; 1776; The Drowsy Chaperone.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING Whatever’s in my head driving me crazy at the time: “My One and Only Love”; “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)”; “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

EDUCATION B.A. from USF; M.A. candidate at UC Davis. Some acting gurus: Erich Morris, Milton Katselas, Lee Strasberg.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: stretch, vocal warm-up, speaking the entire first scene aloud (don’t ask me why—it’s a habit of 15 years that I can’t break for superstitious reasons). Post-: whatcha got?

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM Having witnessed the ’70s, I once owned a pair of shimmering blue velveteen pants. Hell in the rain.

http://blog.act-sf.org/2011/05/tales-of-cast-meet-richard-poe.html

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Locating “Tales of the City”

By:  Drew Bourn
May 24, 2011

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is a series of eight novels set primarily in San Francisco, spanning from 1976 to the present. The stories recount the lives of a broad cross-section of the city’s denizens, and the transformative impact that the characters and the city have on each other. The first five novels were originally published as serials in The San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner; the first installment appeared in the Chronicle exactly thirty years ago today. Beginning in 1993, the first three novels were adapted as three television miniseries starring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis (the entire first miniseries can be seen for free online). This year, the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco is premiering a new musical based on the first two novels. When San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein installed a time capsule under the Benjamin Franklin statue in Washington Square Park in 1979, the small collection of items intended to represent San Francisco’s most recent past included a copy of the first Tales novel.

Larry Rhodes first moved to San Francisco in 1982 – when Maupin was still publishing Tales of the City as a serial in The San Francisco Chronicle. However, it wasn’t until three years later, when Rhodes was living in Atlanta, that he began to read Maupin’s work. Rhodes became so engrossed with Maupin’s writing that he subsequently developed a website featuring Tales-related self-guided walking tours, Tours of the Tales, which launched in July 2010.

Rhodes’ initial impulse to create the tours came around 2001, when he was again living in the Bay Area and wanted to take out-of-town friends to sites mentioned in Tales of the City. At that time, Maupin’s website included a walking tour of locations mentioned in Tales, but the tour focused almost exclusively on the Russian Hill and North Beach neighborhoods. Rhodes was interested in developing something more comprehensive.

In 2003, Rhodes began in earnest to research the locations that appeared in the first six Tales novels and the first two television miniseries. Because some of the businesses mentioned in Tales had moved or closed by the time Rhodes began his investigation, he relied on telephone directories and Polk’s city directories going back to the 1970s at the San Francisco Public Library to establish their correct locations. He also sought information online, using sites such as Mister SF by journalist Hank Donat and Film in America by location scout Scott Trimble. Based on his findings, he made excursions to find and photograph the sites as they exist in San Francisco today (selected photographs can be found on a dedicated Flickr site). As Rhodes commented to me,

“ I want to place the locales not only in the context of the books or movies, but in San Francisco itself. I want the people who take the walking tours to have a feel for San Francisco – somehow capture the essence of the City that captured me.”

So far, Rhodes has created four self-guided walking tours that are available as PDFs on his website. These cover Acquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Russian Hill, North Beach, Jackson Square, Telegraph Hill, Chinatown, Nob Hill, the Tenderloin, and Union Square. He plans on extending the scope of his tours; additional areas for future tours might include the Castro, Noe Valley, Civic Center, South of Market, the Haight, and Golden Gate Park. He is also considering tours that cover sites outside San Francisco that are mentioned in Tales, including locations in Oakland, Marin County, Mendocino, Los Angeles, and Reno.

Because Rhodes provides these tours as PDFs, they can be printed out or read on e-book readers such as Kindle and Nook. Although he is considering a map-based presentation such as Google Maps would provide, it is not an option that he is actively pursing at present. He plans to lead occasional free group walking tours, but the primary focus has been on developing a means by which fellow Tales enthusiasts could explore the sites mentioned in the series at their own pace and on their own schedule. Rhodes’ website also includes a guestbook, which provides an opportunity for those using the tours to respond not only to Rhodes’ work but also to connect with one another.

To learn more about Larry Rhodes’ project, and to download the tours, visit his website: Tours of the Tales. 

http://usingsfhistory.com/2011/05/24/locating-tales-of-the-city/

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Josh Breckenridge

Meet Josh Breckenridge, who plays Jon Fielding. Click here to read his official bio.

NAME Joshua Breckenridge.

CHARACTER Jon Fielding.

HOMETOWN Fallbrook, California.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at Circle Bar B Ranch Theatre in Santa Barbara, California . . . at age 14!

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE The Scottsboro Boys. From our very first reading to our closing night on Broadway . . . what a journey!

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Being cast in the original workshop at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut.

HOW ARE YOU LIKE JON? I’m very focused and career driven, much like Jon . . . oh yeah, and I’m a hopeless romantic.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Crazy for You.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING “On the Wings of Love” (I sang it for my Tales of the City audition).

EDUCATION B.F.A. in musical theater at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: gym. Post-: food!

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM Afro pick.
http://blog.act-sf.org/2011/05/tales-of-cast-meet-josh-breckenridge.html

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Betsy Wolfe

Friday, May 20, 2011

Meet Betsy Wolfe, our Mary Ann Singleton. Click here to read her official bio.

NAME Betsy Wolfe.

CHARACTER Mary Ann Singleton.

HOMETOWN Visalia, California.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE At ten I played Kenickie in my church’s basement production of Grease, and Artful Dodger in Oliver! the following year. Apparently I played smooth-talking boys really well.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE Having the rain pour down on me at the end of Act II in 110 in the Shade. It was freeing, healing, and my first time on Broadway.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Two years ago the casting director for Tales of the City came up to me at an opening night party and said, “There is this part that is perfect for you, but no one knows who the hell you are. You read the books and I’ll get you in the room.”

HOW ARE YOU LIKE MARY ANN? Let me count the ways . . . BUT I will say I’ve never dated a child molester.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Into the Woods.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING “Colors of the Wind.” My two-year-old niece is obsessed with Pocahontas. And it makes me the “favorite” when I sing it!

EDUCATION B.F.A. in musical theater from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).

PERFORMANCE RITUAL The cucumber gimlet from Bourbon and Branch is delicious and will need to be a ritual while in San Francisco.

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM I have no clue, but I’m sure I’ll be wearing them all during the show!

http://blog.act-sf.org/2011/05/tales-of-cast-meet-betsy-wolfe.html

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Judy Kaye

Thursday, May 19, 2011

We know you’re counting the days until Tales of the City officially opens on June 1, so to hold you over till then (and to whet your appetite) . . .

We are pleased to introduce to you the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!

Today, meet Judy Kaye, who plays Anna Madrigal. Click here to read her official bio.

NAME Judy Kaye.

CHARACTER Anna Madrigal.

HOMETOWN Phoenix, Arizona.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE Seeing Damn Yankees with Gwen Verdon on Broadway.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE The first night I went on as the understudy for Madeline Kahn in On the 20th Century. I don’t remember every detail, but it was a magical night. An out-of-body experience.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES When my cell phone rang as I was about to tee off on a golf course in Phoenix, barely a month before rehearsals started!

HOW ARE YOU LIKE ANNA MADRIGAL? I love my life!

FAVORITE MUSICAL Oh, God. How could you ask that?! I have so many for so many different reasons. And, now I have a new one to add to the list—Tales of the City!

FAVORITE SONG TO SING I’ve a whole list of those, too. For every mood: “Simple Song,” “Desperado,” “Some Other Time,” “Move On,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “All the Things You Are,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” etc., etc.

EDUCATION UCLA on and off for five years. No degree. Showbiz was calling.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Rest—eat—workout—stretch—hum—paint my face—GO!

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM I had an M&Ms t-shirt . . . and bell-bottoms, of course.

Tales of the City, May 24, 1976

Tales of the City, May 24, 1976
Armistead Maupin
Sunday, May 22, 2011

This is the first installment of the original "Tales of the City" series. It appeared in The Chronicle on May 24, 1976.


Mary Ann Singleton was 25 years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time.

She came to the city alone for an eight-day vacation. On the fifth night, she drank three Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, realized that her Mood Ring was blue and decided to phone her mother in Cleveland.

"Hi, Mom, it's me."

"Oh, darling. Your daddy and I were just talking about you. There was this crazy man on 'McMillan and Wife' who was strangling all these nice young secretaries, and I just couldn't help thinking ..."

"Mom ..."

"I know, it's just your silly old mother, worrying herself sick over nothing. But you never can tell about those things. I mean, look at that poor Patty Hearst, locked up in that closet with those awful ... "

"Mom, this is long distance."

"I'm sorry, sugar, I'm such an old worry-wart. You must be having a grand time!"

"Oh, Mom, you wouldn't believe it! The people here are so friendly. I feel like I've ..."

"Have you been to the Top of the Mark like I told you?"

"Not yet, but ..."

"Well, don't you miss that. You know, your daddy took me there when he got back from the South Pacific. I remember he slipped the bandleader five dollars, so we could dance to 'Moonlight Serenade' and I spilled Tom Collins all over his beautiful, white Navy ..."

"Mom, I called to tell you something."

"Of course, dear. Just listen to me rambling on. Oh, one thing, before I forget it. I ran into Mr. Lassiter yesterday at the Ridgemont Mall, and he said the office is just falling apart with you gone. They don't get many good secretaries at Lassiter Fertilizers."

"Mom, that's sort of why I called."

"What do you mean, honey?"

"I want you to call Mr. Lassiter and tell him I won't be in on Monday morning."

"Oh, Mary Ann, I'm not sure you should ask for an extension on your vacation."

"It's not an extension, Mom."

"What? I don't ..."

"I'm not coming home, Mom."

For a moment, the line seemed to go dead. Then, dimly in the distance, a television announcer began to tell Mary Ann's father about the temporary relief of hemorrhoids. Finally, her mother spoke: "Now you're being silly, darling."

Mary Ann tried to stay calm. "I'm not being silly, Mom. I really feel comfortable here. I mean, it seems like home to me already."

More silence.

"Mom, I've thought about this for a long time."

"You've only been out there five days."

"I know, Mom, but I'm really sure about this. It's got nothing to do with you and Daddy. I just want to start making my own life, have my own apartment ..."

"Oh, that. Well, of course you can, darling. As a matter of fact, your daddy and I thought those new apartments out at Ridgemont might be just perfect for you. They take lots of young people, and they've got a swimming pool and one of those sauna things, and I could make some of those darling curtains like I made for Sonny and Vicki when they got married. You could have all the privacy you ..."

Mary Ann's voice was gentle but firm. "Mom, you aren't listening to me. It isn't the privacy or living with you and Daddy or ... any of that. It's just me. I love it here. I'm grown up now and ..."

"Well, you certainly aren't acting like it! I've never heard such a thing! You can't just run away from your family and friends to go live with a bunch of hippies and mass murderers!"

"Oh, Mom, that's just a lot of TV crap!"

Her mother lowered her voice reproachfully. "Don't you talk nasty to your mother, Mary Ann ... and it's not a lot of TV ... stuff. What about those Giraffe Killers?"

"Zebra."

"Well, whatever. And what about those earthquakes? Your daddy took me to see that awful movie, and I nearly had a heart attack when Ava Gardner ..."

"Mom. I've made up my mind about this. Will you just call Mr. Lassiter for me?"

Her mother began to cry. "Something terrible is going to happen to you. I know it."

"Now who's being silly? What could possibly happen to me, Mom? San Francisco is a lot safer than Cleveland, and the people are so mellow."

Her mother stopped sobbing for a moment. "What does that mean?" she asked suspiciously.

When it was over, Mary Ann left the Buena Vista and walked through Aquatic Park to the bay. For several minutes, she stared at the Alcatraz beacon, drunk with the prospect of an undefined future.

"What could possible happen to me, Mom?" The words came back to her on a chill wind, nibbling uncertainly on a corner of her mind.

Back at the Fisherman's Wharf Holiday Inn, she looked up Connie Bradshaw's phone number. Connie was the only person she knew in San Francisco. Mary Ann had heard that she was a stewardess for United but hadn't spoken to her old high school friend since 1968.

"Oh, God, I can't believe it!" squealed Connie, when Mary Ann identified herself. "How long are you here for?"

"For good, " said Mary Ann, savoring the words.

"Oh, super! Have you found an apartment yet?"

Mary Ann decided to be direct. "Not yet. I was wondering if I might be able to crash at your place for a couple of days. My savings account isn't holding out too well."

"Sure, " said Connie, without hesitation. "No sweat. That is, if you don't mind an occasional sleep-in."

Mary Ann was thrown for a moment. "Oh ... you mean guys?"

Connie uttered a throaty laugh. "Do I ever, honey!"

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/22/PKEM1HKVCH.DTL

Tales of the City

The iconic novels finally get their musical due.

Mon May 23 2011    

Though it's certainly poised to make a run at Broadway, diehard fans will have to charge San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater this summer to catch the long-awaited stage adaptation of Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin's famous serialized novels. With Tony-winning Avenue Q playwright Jeff Whitty and Avenue Q director James Moore onboard, and Scissor Sisters front man Jake Shears and John Garden writing the score, hopes are Golden Gate Bridge high. Fortunately, the creators have secured an impressive cast, with Wesley Taylor (left) and Josh Breckenridge (right) taking on the roles of Michael 'Mouse' Tolliver and Jon Fielding, one of literature's most memorable gay couples. On a break from rehearsal, Whitty and Shears discuss how they first discovered the Tales books, the difficulty casting the show, and the musical's filthiest moment.

Jake Shears: When did you first read the Tales books?

Jeff Whitty: I read them when I moved to New York City in 1993 and didn't know anybody. My sister gave me the first three, and I tore through them in just a couple of weeks, and it felt like the characters became my temporary New York friends. It was like my dream'to fall in with a group of people like that.

Shears: When did it dawn on you to write the musical?

Whitty: I was on a plane trip back to London, watching the Tales [PBS] miniseries. This was April 2006.

Shears: I still haven't watched the miniseries.

Whitty: You haven't?

Shears: Not since I was a kid. I wanted to steer clear since we started this show.

Whitty: Yeah, watch the miniseries. My partner encouraged me to watch it. How did you first experience Tales of the City?

Shears: I was probably about 13 or 14 (it was before I was out), and these two guys, Larry and Sean, introduced me to it. I know Larry has since passed away, but I always wondered what happened to Sean. He worked at the gas station, and there was a video store there, and I would come in and yap my head off. And I think they spotted a young gay teenager. Sean gave me a copy of TOTC and told me it was fantastic and I should read it. I remember completely falling in love with it. I was so impressionable, and it was just a perfect time for me to read these books. There's a real universality to those characters even now.

Whitty: Totally. I still think it could be relevant to a small-town boy somewhere else in 2011. The characters are so distinct, and whether you know them or not they have to be played by singular actors. Josh Breckenridge (Jon) has been with us for all of the workshops since New York Theatre Center. I was surprised that Mouse was so hard to find. I thought we'd have this embarrassment of riches with actors. There are two sides of Mouse. One is very open and vulnerable and trusting. But then there's also this wonderful irony he has that's a little dark. Actor after actor would come in and not quite hit both those levels until Wesley walked in. It was one of those auditions where he left the room and I knew we'd found our Mouse.

Shears: Yeah, my inspiration for writing the songs came straight from the characters. I didn't want to make a period pastiche with the music. Yes, the books are set in the '70s, and there are constant references to things in 1976, but the story has stood the test of time.

Whitty: Yeah, it's not really comparable to anything. The only slim comparison would be Into the Woods with its interweaving story lines, but that show has the advantage that they're well-known fairy tales. When Rapunzel appears onstage you already know her backstory. The challenge has been to introduce an audience member who doesn't know TOTC to these characters and get them onboard for a story this epic.

Shears: How many scenes does the show have?

Whitty: There are 60 locations and 120 scene shifts. There are like 50-odd characters and more than 250 costumes. It's huge.

Shears: What is the gayest moment in the show?

Whitty: You pick yours, but mine is when we go from seeing the real Anita Bryant to an incredibly over-the-top drag version of Anita Bryant singing a disco song at the Jockey shorts competition.

Shears: There's also the song 'Homosexual Convalescent Center.'

Whitty: Oh, my God! Absolutely! I take that back!

Shears: It's the very snooty upper echelon of the San Francisco gay world singing a song about where they're planning to retire and how they see their future. It's really filthy, too. It's like 'Delta Dawn' meets Blueboy magazine. One line in the third verse goes, 'My saving grace/ Will be a slower pace/ And a parking space/ On the end of my face.'

Whitty: I think that's the moment where the gayness is turned up to an 11 in the show. There's always a steady drumbeat, but that's when the brakes go off, and the car falls over the cliff.

WESLEY'S HOT LIST
1. 'Sunshine. I'm from Florida, so summer and sunshine feel like home.'
2. 'I'm excited about rocking' my 'stache for the show' and scaring my friends and family with it.'
3. 'So You Think You Can Dance. Guilty pleasure.'
4. 'Nudity. Not really, but I'm a fan of wearing fewer clothes than I need to.'
5. 'The Dark Knight Rises. Pumped!'

JOSH'S HOT LIST
1. 'I'm excited to explore San Francisco and Napa and Alcatraz.'
2. 'The iPhone 5. It's time for me to join the rest of modern culture.'
3. 'Sporting my mini-afro, sideburns, and goatee around town.'
4. 'X-Men: First Class. I love a big blockbuster with a big Diet Coke and a big ol' bucket of popcorn!'
5. 'The premiere of a new indie film I did called Finding Me: Truth, which started in the festival circuits in late spring. Can't wait to see it!'

http://www.out.com/detail.asp?page=1&id=30248

Monday, May 23, 2011

Judy Kaye takes role of Mrs. Madrigal in 'Tales'

Leba Hertz, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, May 22, 2011

Judy Kaye has starred on Broadway in such shows as "Ragtime" and "On the Twentieth Century," as well as performing on national tours in almost every iconic role, including Rose in "Gypsy" and Julie in "Carousel." She won the 1988 featured actress Tony award for her work in "Phantom of the Opera." And she has been nominated two other times for roles she took on in San Francisco: Rosie in "Mamma Mia," and in American Conservatory Theater's production of "Souvenir."

Kaye, who also played Mrs. Lovett in ACT's "Sweeney Todd," returns to the repertory theater to star as the nurturing and mysterious Anna Madrigal in the world premiere musical "Tales of the City." The always down-to-earth Kaye, 62, took time out from her busy rehearsal schedule to talk to The Chronicle.

Q: How did you get involved with this production?

A: I read the script last fall. I got a call about the possibility of doing it. Then I got a call saying no, it wasn't going to work. Then I went off to Arizona to do "Lost in Yonkers." I was on a golf course at the end of March in Tucson when I got the offer to do it. I had met with Jason (Moore), our director - we had a lovely hour together just chatting and reading the script just a little bit without any expectations. Although as soon as I read it I thought, "Oh my God, I would love to play this part." There are not many parts at my tender age that a woman reads that: (a) I'm right for this. I'm really, really right this, and (b) it's so well written. So complete.

Q: Why do you think you're right for this role?


A: I'm the right age. Vocally, it's perfect for me, speaking in technical terms. And I immediately felt a kinship with this character, and frankly who wouldn't? She's so open-hearted. She' s so loving and inclusive in her circle of friends, and encouraging to these kids she kind of mothers. And she's got a secret. Every human being on the planet has a secret of some sort. And that's what I was drawn to. This great open-hearted character who goes through a change. She learns something and becomes a better person and has a fuller life because of it.

Q: How has it been working with the younger cast?

A: These are all glorious professionals. To say they are talented is a real understatement. They are all powerhouses. And because of the many stories in this piece, we need fantastic people to play all these major, major parts - iconic parts. And every one of them is so fully realized. Pow! Wow! We really have a deep bench here. I'm in awe.

Q: How familiar were you with "Tales of the City" before this show?

A: Not hugely. I knew it existed. I knew generally what it was about. And I have not read the books. In some ways, that's good, because I come to this completely objective. I have no preconceived notions about any of this. I bought the book and I started to read, and I thought you know, I'm not going to do this right now. My bible is this script, because that's the story I have to tell. Once we're up and running, and trotting along, I'll pull them out and start reading them again. I was really enjoying what I was reading. I was almost enjoying it too much.

Q: How about the TV series?

A: I'm glad to say I never saw it. I will see it eventually, because now I really want to, but I don't want to be swayed. I started to watch - it wasn't a scene that my character was in - and I fell right into it. I mustn't do that. For in order for me to be effective, I just have to try and inhabit this.

Q: Did you know the secret of Anna Madrigal while you were reading the script?


A: I actually went to the end.

Q: What did you think?


A: The whole thing blew me away.

Q: How's the score?
A: Fabulous!

Q: And how's the score compared with other scores you have performed?


A: It's fabulous!

I'm serious. Everyone keeps pinching ourselves. Is this score as good as I think it is? I haven't heard a score like this for a show in I don't know how long. I don't remember hearing a new show in recent memory that was this good. It's fun, uplifting, beautiful in places. Absolutely breathtaking. I had never heard of the Scissor Sisters. I'm old, you know. (laughter) I went to see them the other night. It was glam-rock fun party music. It did not prepare me for what the score sounds like. It can be that, but it can also have great depth, wonderful harmonic structures. There's very surprising melody turns and very good lyric writing.

Q: How has the score been for your voice?

A: That was the crazy thing. This was not written for me. I didn't come along until very late in the game. And I was saying to Jason the other day, this thing is sitting in the meat of my voice. How did that happen? It feels really, really good for me. And I got some great stuff.

E-mail Leba Hertz at lhertz@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page P - 17 of the San Francisco Chronicle

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/20/PKC61JFFCR.DTL

'Tales of the City': ACT puts on final touches

Steven Winn, Special to The Chronicle

Sunday, May 22, 2011

San Francisco audiences are about to enter a theatrical time machine with the dial spun back 35 years. Where they land, in a warmly awaited musical "Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City" that opens June 1 at the American Conservatory Theater, will feel very familiar to many, including some who weren't even born in 1976.

First serialized in The Chronicle, Armistead Maupin's buoyant and bittersweet novel "Tales of the City," set in San Francisco, drew an indelible new map of the city for readers here and everywhere. With its interlaced stories of dewy-eyed newcomers and dissolute social climbers, gay coming-out stories and paisley-clad hippies, "Tales" captured the mid-'70s San Francisco of disco and drugs, fern bars and pickup night at the Marina Safeway, a fog-scrimmed age of hope, heartbreak, horniness, innocence and laughter.

The book established 28 Barbary Lane - where Russian Hill landlady Anna Madrigal offers marijuana, maternal love and wisdom to her improvised family of tenants - as one of the most beloved addresses in modern American fiction. It spawned a series of sequels and a much-loved 1993 TV miniseries that starred Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney. The novels continue to find ardent new readers.

Now, with two of Broadway's bright young names as writer and director, and two musical theater novices from the glam-rock band Scissor Sisters signed on to write the music and lyrics, "Tales of the City" is finally getting the musical treatment that's proved elusive over the years. A previous attempt ran aground a decade ago.

This time a "Tales" musical has plenty of tailwind. The ACT production, aimed at Broadway but with no up-front commercial backers or specific New York plans at the moment, is a big-budget undertaking at $2.5 million. Jeff Whitty, author of the ebullient "Avenue Q," wrote the book. Fellow "Avenue Q" alum Jason Moore ("Shrek: The Musical," an early collaboration on "The Book of Mormon") is directing. The set, which features a lofty set of stairs and landings at 28 Barbary Lane, is by Broadway vet Douglas Schmidt. The cast includes plenty of names with major theatrical street cred. They include Judy Kaye as Anna Madrigal, Betsy Wolfe as Cleveland transplant Mary Ann Singleton, Wesley Taylor as the book's gay lead Michael "Mouse" Tolliver and Mary Birdsong as bisexual Mona Ramsey.

ACT artistic director Carey Perloff committed to the project after attending an early workshop. "I loved Armistead's book so much," she said. "There are so many Mary Anns who come here from Cleveland and everywhere else and say, 'This is my story.' "

Led by an anonymous lead gift, ACT assembled a circle of individual and corporate donors to bankroll the show. "We've done big musicals before," said Perloff, "so we knew what the band would cost and what the scenic costs would be. Not that there aren't surprises." Perloff praised director Moore as a "pragmatic and flexible collaborator. If he has a great idea and we can't afford it, he comes up with something else." Perloff is hoping for a summer-long extension of a show that's had a long but steady gestation period.

Whitty, 39, had what he calls his "lightning-bolt moment" when he watched the "Tales" miniseries on a plane to London almost five years ago. "This is how a musical begins," he said of the book's opening, in which 25-year-old Mary Ann arrives in San Francisco. "You put a character into a new environment and see what happens to her." Director Moore, 40, agreed, comparing the story's musical-friendly premise to that of "My Fair Lady" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

The 1970s San Francisco that Maupin evokes with such bright, deft strokes is another intrinsic asset. "There's this idea of the city itself as a force that brings people together, pulls them apart and transforms them," said Moore, who first encountered the novel during his gay coming-out phase in college. "That became a unifying principle for us."

But if "Tales" seemed like a musical theater natural in some respects, it also posed substantial challenges. One of them has to do with the book's multiple, overlapping storylines and large cast of characters. Whitty decided that all of the musical's narrative threads would lead to 28 Barbary Lane and/or to the Halcyon family, a wealthy clan with plenty of problems that money can't solve. To make his stories play out, Whitty had to draw on the next novel in the series, "More Tales of the City."

Even with a number of characters and episodes excised, his initial draft came in at an unwieldy 180 pages. A first reading took place at Moore's apartment in 2008. Subsequent workshops at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut and at ACT helped winnow and refine the libretto. Whitty's sustaining intention was to avoid a "bell-bottom period piece" and instead capture "an amazing time of longing and a sense of people really searching, whether it was through est or smoking pot or sex."

For Moore, "Les Miserables" and "Rent" were touchstones for his staging. Both shows employ multiple story lines and are "about community." He knew he wanted to keep the set light and suggestive, "so one scene could bounce to the next. I'd be a fool to represent San Francisco literally in San Francisco," he said. "I'd rather evoke it." Costumes and the choreography, which draws on everything from the Cockettes and disco to roller-skating and drumming circles, would have to carry a lot of the period flavor.

Songwriters Jake Shears, 32, and John Garden, 36, said they jumped at the chance to write their first musical. "Especially this one," said the voluble Shears. "I read the book when I was 13, before I even knew I was gay, and loved it." He and Garden got to work right away, writing "Tales" songs between Scissor Sisters shows in London, New York, Berlin and elsewhere. The first number they wrote, "Plus One," is still in the show.

"Then when we started getting into it," said Garden, "there was so much to explore in terms of musical styles from the period."

"But we didn't want it to sound like a '70s pastiche," added Shears. "The book is timeless, even though the time when it's set in is important." Garden, who shares an enthusiasm for "The Who's Tommy" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" with Shears, said there's everything from Elton John to Debussy in the spectrum of the "Tales" score. "Not that you'll necessarily hear any of it overtly," he noted.

For a rehearsal visitor, the warm-hearted, crowd-pleasing character of the show comes across immediately. Working in a cramped space in the ACT complex, the company was polishing a big ensemble number that came right on the heels of a tenderly liberating love scene for Anna Madrigal (Kaye) and her secret suitor, Edgar Halcyon (Richard Poe).

"Is there anybody alive without paper faces?" sang Wolfe's plaintive Mary Ann, the cast fixed in a frieze around her. Soon they joined her in a rueful anthem: "This is how people survive - behind paper faces." Moore stepped in when they were finished to restage their exits from the staircase. A prop master took note of the fact that someone needed a martini glass.

Moments later, the mood shifted, first to a defiant Anna leading the way in "No Apologies" and then to a rousing, skin-baring jockey-shorts competition at a gay bar. "Defending My Life" came off as a kind of disco-beat answer to "I Am What I Am" from the Broadway hit "La Cage aux Folles." The musical "Tales" seems poised to strum a lot of heartstrings.

"I get real teary in rehearsal," Shears said. "I don't know if that's my big gay heart or what."

Freely as the feelings may flow in ACT's big season-ending musical, the show has been rigorously and sometimes ruthlessly managed along the way. Songs that Garden loved but called "too vague" or musical interludes that were "too heavy" were cut as Whitty pruned his 180-page script down to something that would seem fleet and light-footed onstage. Musical reprises, traded freely from one character to another, stitch the story lines together.

"The hardest part was getting the flow," Whitty said. "I see this as one 2 hour and 40 minute song." It remains to be seen whether "Tales of the City" will take flight as a musical.

But this much is guaranteed: A big part of the audience will come in humming the story when they take their seats. {sbox}

Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City: Previews end next Sun. Runs June 1 to July 10. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. $40-$127. (415) 749-2228. www.act-sf.org.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?type=gaylesbian&f=/c/a/2011/05/20/PK9K1JEUCD.DTL

Sunday, May 22, 2011

This Week: Tales of the City

Thirty-five years after Armistead Maupin's iconic newspaper serial Tales of the City, the eccentric residents of 28 Barbary Lane are back in an ambitious new musical making its world premiere. Learn how Maupin's Tales inspired the creative team behind this adaptation and catch a preview of some of the songs from members of the glam-rock band Scissor Sisters. The play runs until July 10, 2011 at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

From KQED, with thanks to Lori Halloran, Segment Producer, KQED-TV San Francisco

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Visalia's Betsy Wolfe stars in 'Tales of the City' on San Francisco stage

6:50 PM, May. 18, 2011  | 
Written by
Choices

Visalia’s Besty Wolfe will get a chance to shine in the spotlight when the musical “Tales of the City” makes its world debut at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater.

A 2000 graduate of Golden West High School, Wolfe will star as Mary Ann Singleton, a Midwestern transplant who moves to 1970s San Francisco, where she meets an eccentric assortment of characters and finds romance. The musical is based on Armistead Maupin’s best-selling books. (“Tales” famously first appeared in 1976 as a serialized novel in the San Francisco Chronicle.)

“Tales” is now playing in previews and officially opens May 31. It is scheduled to run through July 10.

The musical features a score and lyrics by Jake Shears of The Scissor Sisters, a book by Jeff Whitty (a Tony Award-winner for “Avenue Q") and is directed by Jason Moore (“Shrek the Musical” and “Avenue Q”).

Choices wasn’t able to connect up with Wolfe to talk about the show — ACT public relations representatives said she wasn’t availble for interviews because of rehearsal schedules — but did talk to Wolfe about “Tales” back in January when she was in town preparing for a fundraiser concert.

For the last several years, Wolfe and the creative team behind “Tales” have been developing the show in theater workshops, she said.

“I’m just thrilled it’s going to finally get a full production,” Wolfe said back in January. “And to have the show debut in San Francisco is just going to be magical.”

During the grueling early “Tales” audtion process two years ago, Whitty said Wolfe was “electrifying” and left the creative team with an “A ha!” moment.

“She’s not only a wonderful actress, funny and intelligent, but can break your heart too. And as we always say, Betsy ‘sings her face off’ — her rangy, expressive voice is to die for,” Whitty said. “Her Mary Ann Singleton is, for me, definitive.”

In addition to Wolfe, the cast will include Tony Award-winner Judy Kaye as Maupin’s iconic pot-smoking landlady Anna Madrigal, Mary Birdsong as Mona Ramsay and Tony Award-nominee Manoel Felciano (“Sweeney Todd”) as Norman.

Fans of PBS might remember the 1993 television adaptation of “Tales,” which starred Olympia Dukakis as Madrigal and Laura Linney as Mary Ann.

The big question with “Tales” is if the show is a hit in San Francisco will it move to Broadway? Shows frequently open outside of New York City to work out tweaks in plot and music before moving to New York. “Wicked,” for example, had a 2003 pre-Broadway run in San Francisco.

Does Wolfe think “Tales of the City” will make it to Broadway?

“I would think with all the talent behind the show, it will,” said Wolfe back in January. “But right now I’m just focusing on the show in San Francisco and where it goes from there we’ll see.”

Wolfe is familiar with Broadway, of course. She has appeared in the Tony Award-nominated musicals “Everyday Rapture” and “110 in the Shade” with Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, who grew up in Fresno.

At least one of her biggest fans from Visalia will make the trek to San Francisco to see Wolfe in “Tales.” Longtime Golden West drama teacher Mike Wilson is excited to see his former student in the production.

“I have had dozens of great performers come through our program over the past 30 years, but Betsy is the best,” Wilson said. “Her work ethic was so amazing and her talent was unsurpassed.”

Aside from her Broadway performances, Wolfe appeared in the national touring company of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” performed with symphonies in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Detroit and Baltimore, sung at Carnegie Hall and was the lead soloist singer for the New York City Ballet.

http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com/article/20110518/ENTERTAINMENT05/110518005

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

'Tales of the City' a San Francisco treat

By: Greg Archer 05/17/11 4:00 AM
Special to The Examiner

Oh, these are wonderful times for Armistead Maupin — and imagine the tales he’ll be telling a year from now.

But on the eve of the world premiere of the lavish “Tales of the City” musical, based on the author’s seminal literary works, Maupin’s emotions are, quite naturally, high.

“I’m so delighted that I have been able to create a lore that can survive; that can translate into so many different realms of art,” Maupin says. “I don’t know what to say. It’s a tremendous tribute, not so much to me, but to the story I have been telling. This is a terrific third act of my life.”

And a much-anticipated act at that.

“Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City,” the musical amalgam of the first two books in his “Tales of the City” series, finally comes to life, opening in previews Wednesday at American Conservatory Theater in The City.

Already generating buzz are Jake Shears and John Garden of the Scissor Sisters, who birthed the music. But the production seemed charmed from its genesis years ago when writer Jeff Whitty and director Jason Moore, both of “Avenue Q,” arrived at the helm.

Maupin first began penning “Tales” more than 35 years ago. After turning heads as a serial column in the San Francisco Chronicle, and later as an award-winning mini-series, his characters — from the naive Mary Ann Singleton to the mysterious Barbary Lane landlady Mrs. Madrigal — warmed hearts. Maupin’s latest “Tales” jaunt, “Mary Ann in Autumn,” in fact, met with stellar reviews upon release last fall.

“The story and the characters seem real to people and have become integral to their lives,” he says. “Throughout all the works, I was merely expressing my own love for The City and the humanity that was changing my own life [at the time].”

About that, Maupin, now in his 60s, credits his grandmother as a prominent influence.

“I was about 14 at the time when she said … ‘that any man that was all man and any woman that was all woman was a complete monster unfit for human company,’” he recalls with a chuckle.

“We were walking behind a very thin woman in a cloud of perfume in spiked heels,” he adds. “But it was quite a radical thing to say in 1958 — to suggest that a person had elements of male and female. I think it provided a great deal of strength for me over the years, and as a writer, it really helped me.”

What's what

The story: The show combines two novels: “Tales of the City” and “More Tales of the City.” “I couldn’t be happier with what Jeff Whitty has done,” Maupin says. “He’s taken a story line from ‘More Tales’ and made it integral to the first book and it creates greater fulfillment at the end of the piece.”
The music: The Scissor Sisters’ influence is notable. “‘Tales’ is a proper musical ‘musical,’” Shears says. “It’s not a ’70s pastiche. The story and the books are timeless and we wanted the music to be timeless.”
The surprises: Audiences’ emotions may run wild — the work swims in deep waters. Bring tissue.

Who's who

Anna Madrigal: Judy Kaye, a Tony Award winner, fills the shoes of Barbary Lane’s favorite landlady.
Mona Ramsey: Mary Birdsong, the comedian from “Reno: 911,” plays the city hipster.
Mary Ann Singleton: Betsy Wolfe portrays the wide-eyed newcomer to San Francisco.
Michael “Mouse” Tolliver: Wesley Taylor of “Rock of Ages” takes on the iconic gay character.


Notable quotes

“The biggest challenge of the show has been just finding out how it flows. We’ve just been chipping away at it. I think some of us, at some point, want to move onto Barbary Lane — the sense that the family you are born into isn’t the family you are meant for.” — Jeff Whitty, librettist

“The interweaving of the two novels does make for an extraordinarily raunchy and funny whorehouse scene, which ... I think every good musical requires.”
— Armistead Maupin

IF YOU GO

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City

Presented by American Conservatory Theater

    Where: 415 Geary St., San Francisco
    When: Wednesday through July 10
    Tickets: $40 to $130
    Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org
    Note: A gala opening is scheduled for June 1.

http://www.sfexaminer.com/entertainment/2011/05/tales-city-san-francisco-treat

Tales Spinning

Tony award–winner Jeff Whitty tackles the musical adaptation of a modern gay classic with Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

By Jason Lamphier
The Advocate

“I’m scared shitless about this show,” says playwright Jeff Whitty. On May 18 he is scheduled to unveil this season’s riskiest, most ambitious, gayest stage production not starring a web-slinging superhero: his long-awaited musical version of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. With opening night looming and Tales fans champing at the bit, Whitty, who’s been working on its libretto for four years, isn’t in the mood to mince words about his anxiety. “I’m not going into this with any sort of bravado,” he says. “We’re not going to know what we have until we put it in front of people. That’s what’s exciting and terrifying about it.”

Sitting in front of a plate of eggs and toast in the back corner of a cafĂ© in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Whitty is a safe distance from the critical daggers he fears he’ll have to dodge after the show premieres at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. His jitters seemingly in check, Whitty, 39, is detailing his vision for the project and holding forth on the legacy of Maupin’s popular novels as only a true Tales lover can. “I want to write for a new audience and give them a big, crunchy epic musical,” he says. “At the same time, I think of a classic like Les Miserables, which is a triumph of structure. It’s so engaging on a very primal storytelling level. If they were able to pull that off, then we can pull this off. That is my hope for Tales.”

Amused by the effusive, drama-geek grandeur of this declaration, Whitty does an about-face and clarifies: “I want to make sure it doesn’t come off like I’m saying we’re going to redefine musical theater.” He chuckles before offering a comical, catty analogy: “You know, Bono said this thing about Spider-Man where he’s like”—Whitty shifts his voice into an exaggerated, pretentious accent—“ ‘It hearkens to Walt Whitman and all these deep thinkers and ama-a-azing musicians.’ I was just like, ‘Oh, honey.’ ”

Given the precious, expansive source material, a Tales adaptation would be a daunting venture for any playwright. But if someone can translate Maupin’s complex characters and interlacing plotlines to the stage, why not Whitty? This is the writer who, in 2004, won the Tony award for Best Book of a Musical for the peppy Sesame Street–inspired puppet spectacle Avenue Q, arguably the most inventive, unexpected, and relatable Broadway production of the last decade (it also netted Tonys for Best Score and Best Musical, stunning many theatergoers when it beat out that year’s front-runner, Wicked). Conceived by composers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Avenue Q, like Tales, featured disenchanted post-collegiates sharing a building, their dreams, and their angst against a hip, urban, pansexual backdrop. Also like Tales, Q tapped into the uncertainty and headiness of the 20- and 30-something generations but still managed to go down real easy thanks to its uplift and humor.

 Whitty first discovered Tales of the City in 1993, three years after the Coos Bay, Ore., native came out to his family. He’d just graduated from the University of Oregon and decamped to New York City, where at 22 he moved into a tiny studio apartment on the Lower East Side. He hadn’t yet begun his studies in New York University’s graduate acting program and was waiting tables at the popular theater district restaurant Joe Allen. Alone but starry-eyed, he found solace in Maupin’s novels. “Those characters became my temporary friends because I didn’t know anyone here,” Whitty recalls. “I wasn’t in school yet. I didn’t have any way of meeting people, so Mary Ann and Mouse and all those folks became my buddies when I tore through those six books.”

He devoured the collection in a month, but when the first novel was made into a television miniseries — produced by Channel 4 in the U.K. that same year, then picked up by PBS in the U.S. in 1994 — he refused to watch it, not wanting to taint his own mental picture of 28 Barbary Lane. Showtime eventually coproduced and aired More Tales of the City in 1998 and Further Tales of the City in 2001, but Whitty continued to ignore the persistent efforts of his longtime partner, writer Steven Schmersal, to get him to watch the show, which included career-defining performances by Laura Linney, in her breakout role as Mary Ann, and Olympia Dukakis, who played pot-growing trans matriarch Anna Madrigal.

It wasn’t until April 2006 that Whitty’s Tales remake began to take shape. After completing Avenue Q, his first musical libretto, he was reluctant to jump back into writing, underwhelmed by the new offers coming in. “Avenue Q was truly a draining, exhausting experience,” he says. “I took a ton of meetings and said no to everything because there was nothing that felt worth the struggle to write a musical.” Then one day, on a plane ride to London to cast the West End production of Avenue Q, he popped in a DVD of the first Tales installment. “It’s Mary Ann on the phone to her mother saying, ‘I’m not coming back to Cleveland. I am embarking on this exciting new journey,’ ” he says, remembering the opening scene, in which the naive heroine arrives in San Francisco’s Russian Hill. “I thought, That’s how a musical starts — you plunge someone into this new world. They’re bringing their old way of living into this new environment.”

Upon landing, Whitty checked on the rights to the story (Maupin has collaborated on several smaller Tales-themed musical projects) and found they were available. By July he was on a flight to San Francisco to pitch his idea to Maupin. “I was super nervous to meet him for the first time,” Whitty says. “But when I got to Armistead’s he said, ‘Do you get high?’ We got baked and laughed for a few hours, and I don’t think I got all the way through my presentation. How could I say no? It was like being asked by Mrs. Madrigal herself!” After that, his Tales musical was a go. Though Maupin has made a few suggestions, contributing some of the show’s song titles, the novelist has taken a mostly hands-off approach to the production.

The stage version of Tales reunites Whitty with gay Avenue Q director Jason Moore and features a score by Scissor Sisters front man Jake Shears and the band’s touring keyboardist, John “JJ” Garden. Divided into two acts and clocking in at two hours and 45 minutes, it primarily mines the first Tales novel, originally published in 1978, while also touching on a few choice moments from its 1980 sequel, including the memorable scene in which Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, now played by actor Wesley Taylor (The Addams Family, Rock of Ages), comes out to his mother in a letter. For Whitty, telescoping Maupin’s work was a difficult but necessary decision. “Most musicals have the A story and the B story. This has the F story and the G story,” he says. “But we’ve done a ton of slenderizing because people don’t want to sit through a 17-hour musical.”

 Though Tales follows a recent spate of gay-themed adaptations and revivals — Priscilla Queen of the Desert, La Cage aux Folles, Angels in America — Whitty insists he isn’t simply waxing nostalgic or cashing in on a trend. For him, the themes and underlying message of Tales couldn’t be more relevant today. “From a gay perspective, it’s shocking how little has changed,” Whitty says. “Act 2 of Tales of the City opens with Anita Bryant giving a speech to the audience, and the things she says are the same arguments that Maggie Gallagher is pulling out now. And I think there’s something universal about characters who want to find family, manifest who they are, and be open and free. That’s the struggle of most of the characters in this show.”

Shears, who discovered Tales while in his early teens, agrees: “It’s timeless, like a Greek myth or something. The characters are so ingrained in your psyche; they’re so strong.” Since jumping on board when Whitty told him about the project four years ago, the musician has composed more than 20 tracks for the production. (Whitty describes the songs as “the 1940s via the 1970s via now.”) Shears exhibits a particular fondness for Anna Madrigal, one of the first positive portrayals of a trans character created for a mainstream audience. He’s so enamored of the character that he wrote “Next Time You See Me,” a revelatory, roof-shaking ballad for Madrigal (played by Judy Kaye) to close the first act.

While Tales revolves around the self-discovery of Michael and San Fran newcomer Mary Ann (played by Betsy Wolfe in the musical), Whitty also has a soft spot for Mrs. Madrigal — and these days, for trans characters in general. “I think transgender people haven’t had their turn yet in the public eye in the way they deserve,” he says. “I guess part of me is just so bored with gay people. I’m all about transgender people.” The playwright’s recent musical Bring It On, based loosely on the 2000 cheerleader film and set to start its national tour in the fall, also features a trans character, a fierce queen bee of an inner-city high school named La Cienega. She seems different from her peers, but she never explicitly addresses her gender. “I saw her most often as the ‘straight woman,’ the voice of reason amid the more eccentric characters around her,” Whitty says. “I didn’t want to go in the ‘sassy black’ direction because it’s been done, done, done.”

When Bring It On premiered in Atlanta in January, Whitty says the performance was met with glowing reviews: “Her curtain call always got one of the biggest ovations. The audience completely loved her throughout the show and appreciated that we weren’t sermonizing about it. For once we weren’t getting a sob story. There was something utopian about it.”

This time, Whitty doesn’t backpedal or try to tone down the grand idealism of his statement. “That’s the world I live in,” he adds. “You’re not always explaining who you are. You just are.”

http://www.advocate.com/printArticle.aspx?id=202600

Monday, May 16, 2011

Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears and John Garden Talk About Musicalizing Tales of the City

By Adam Hetrick
16 May 2011

Somewhere between the Bee Gees, Elton John and Peaches you'll find the Scissor Sisters, the glam-pop band with downtown New York City roots, whose songs "Take Your Mama," "Filthy/Gorgeous," "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" and "Invisible Light" have grabbed fans' ears with their insistent hooks since their self-titled debut album was released in 2004.

Though two more albums have followed to acclaim, "Ta-Dah" in 2006 and "Night Work" in 2010, the Scissor Sisters still tiptoe around the mainstream music scene in the U.S., enjoying a cult status and leagues of fans ranging from the downtown scene to Elton John, who has also collaborated on a couple singles. When they opened for Lady Gaga at Madison Square Garden earlier this year, they introduced themselves by saying, "We're the Scissor Sisters and if you don't know who we are, then you're probably not gay, or not British."

That might be about to change. With a host of No. 1 hits in the U.K., platinum albums, sold-out concert tours and an ever-growing U.S. following, the Scissor Sisters' front man Jake Shears and keyboard player John "JJ" Garden have set their sights set on the realm of musical theatre.

Collaborating with Tony Award-winning Avenue Q book writer Jeff Whitty and Tony-nominated director Jason Moore (Avenue Q, Shrek), Shears (music/lyrics) and Garden (music) have scored a musical adaptation of Armistead Maupin's beloved fiction series "Tales of the City."

The 1970s-set saga — mysterious, touching and comical — centers around the inhabitants of a small San Francisco boarding house (the magical manse at 28 Barbary Lane) run by the enigmatic pot-smoking landlady Anna Madrigal.

Playbill.com caught up with Shears and Garden, who are putting the finishing touches on Tales of the City prior to its world-premiere May 18 at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.

As big fan of both the Scissor Sisters and Armistead Maupin's "Tales," this project is sort of my musical theatre dream. How did it come about for you?


Jake Shears: About five years ago Jeff Whitty sent me an e-mail wondering if I'd be interested in working on a musical; we had known [Jeff] for about five years at that point. I asked him what it was about and he said it was "Tales of the City." I was in. I was thrilled. Scissor Sisters were on the road at the time and I asked John to start writing songs with me.

Were either of you fans of the book or miniseries?


JS: I had been a fan of the books, but JJ had never read them.

John "JJ" Garden: I knew the miniseries from when it aired in the U.K. but I got to discover the books for the first time as we wrote, which is exciting.

How about musicals? You guys have downtown roots, but Broadway show tunes don't strike me as something on your iPods.


JS: I've always been interested in that style of writing. I've definitely had my own kind of taste, and I don't necessarily like, or respond to, a lot of musicals. But, I've always been a fan of certain musicals and have loved the idea of telling stories and narratives through music. That's kind of a device we use a lot in Scissor Sisters music. In my head there are songs that we've written as a band that are kind of like mini-musicals unto themselves.

JG: I think it was interesting once we started the writing process, we became sort of hyper aware of musical theatre as a form we were working in, and to go discover how many shows there are that actually influenced both of us throughout our lives from childhood onwards. Also things that aren't always considered musicals, things like Bugsy Malone, Tommy and Quadrophenia, some of those things that still have the storytelling aspect to it, but haven't necessarily been staged or are associated with Broadway. I think we both made a lot of discovery of things that are in our musical DNA.

Was it a challenge to adapt your writing process — as songwriter-performers you can essentially riff on whatever inspires you — to create character-driven material that drives plot and explores character?
JS: There are certain songs that were real challenges, that we took lots of stabs at until we got it right. But when I'm writing lyrics, and songs for Scissor Sisters, I sing in character a lot of times and I write songs in character with the band. It's a device we use on a regular basis with Scissor Sisters, so it felt really natural for me to write songs as characters who provide new information and move the story along.

How do the two of you write? Lyrics first, music first?

JG: The best situation is that we are in the same room and work it out together. Sometimes Jake will come in with a whole melody already worked out and no lyrics, and just a concept. Other times lyrics first. It's really been different for every song.

JS: We have no formula. I'm still mystified as to how to write a song. We've written most of the show on piano. Tossing ideas back and forth.

What can Scissor Sisters fans expect the score to sound like? You've got a throwback groove going already, are we getting some disco?


JS: There's a bit of disco in it. I think both of us made a conscious decision not to limit ourselves to a kind of '70s pastiche. My view on the books is that they are very timeless and that's why we're making this show now. It's also why people still read them and they're still in print. It's just a timeless story. I wanted the music to feel timeless as well. Our songwriting already leans into that sort of '70s song craft as it is. So, I thought it was really necessary not to overthink that aspect, and to just set out to write songs naturally and that's what we've done.

JG: There's definitely some surprising stylistic moments that fans of the band and Jake's writing with the band will be surprised by. There's some unusual turns.

This is a really ambitious piece to tackle for the stage. It's sort of Dickensian in scale — the subplots all intertwine and the characters are all somehow connected to one another.


JS: That's a big challenge of Tales of the City, adapting it in that way. I mean right off the top, you've got to be merciless and make big decisions about what stays, what goes and what's going to be the real center of it. Those are big decisions that we had to start making off the top.

JG: There was even a moment where someone suggested that we pick one character and make the show about them, but I think we've avoided that quite well. The show still works with a kind of multiple focus. All these characters are so well loved and you don't feel that anyone of them is suffering because one character is being pushed forward.

Novelist Maupin has also been pretty hands-on in the process, I understand. Is it intimidating to adapt his work and then have him view it?


JS: He's been amazing. So helpful and open-minded. He's just so happy that this is happening and he's been a real asset to us. I don't know if we could have really done it without him. I wouldn't have wanted to do it without him. He's been a real rock and always has great insight. It's a pleasure to be friends with him and be around him and work with him. Actually, that's the thing about adapting and what's been so great about Armistead Maupin being a part of this process. There have been liberties taken. You have to do what's going to be best for the musical instead of being married to the original text. But, that said, I think we've been very faithful to the characters.

What were some of the first moments you wrote? Anything in particular that jumped out at you in the story as a first inspiration?

JS: The first song we wrote was a song called "Plus One," which Dede sings as she finds out that she's not only pregnant, but pregnant with twins. That was the first bit of the story we musicalized. It was just a matter of finding moments at first that felt like they lent themselves to song. This was before there was a script and we just took moments from the book. Other early songs were "Where Beauty Lies" and "Homosexual Convalescence Center."

"Homosexual Convalescence Center." I love that title already.

JS: It's this party of the "A-Gays," the upper echelon of homos who are singing about where they plan on spending their retirement and the rest of their lives. It's a very funny song, but it's an important song in the show because underneath it — I wanted to acknowledge the fact that this is 1976 and all these men who were singing the song about what they're going to do in their old age — in actuality, a lot of them won't reach their old age. That's something that the audience knows that the characters don't necessarily. There are some left field ideas like that and subject matters that I wanted to broach. I thought it was necessary. There are interesting little pathways that come out in the story like that.

You've been working on the piece for about five years now, right? Theatre folks are pretty used to the workshop process, but that must be a kind of new thing for you guys.


JG: The first workshop at the O'Neill [Center's Music Theatre Conference in 2009] was the first time we had heard anyone else sing the songs from the score and it was so exciting and inspiring. We started writing new material during that workshop because we also started to realize what was possible. It was sort of the first time we saw the potential for all the directions [it could go].

Are the two of you still actively writing during rehearsals?

JS: Unless there are any major surprises coming up, everything's written. Now it's just scalpel work, clarifying every little thing and going through every line. Just shaping and doing all the detail work. It's been really fun. There are still a couple lines I'm stuck on, I have no idea what the hell they'll be. But that's a fun part of it. It's gratifying because you plug stuff like that right into the show and you see it work right away.

It's also pretty special that Tales of the City should debut in its hometown. What are the chances that we'll see it in New York?

JS: There couldn't be any other way [than San Francisco] and I think there probably will be [other productions]. The goal is to make this show the best show it can possibly be for San Francisco. I will be satisfied and happy even if I never saw the show again after San Francisco. It's been such a blast and we're so proud of it. I just want it to be the best show right now. Hopefully it will go on and have a great life.

Tales of the City will begin previews May 18 at A.C.T., prior to officially opening May 31. It will play an extended engagement through July 10. The cast features Tony Award winner Judy Kaye (The Phantom of the Opera, On the Twentieth Century, Souvenir) as Anna Madrigal, with Betsy Wolfe (Everyday Rapture, 110 in the Shade) as Midwestern transplant Mary Ann Singleton, Mary Birdsong (Martin Short Fame Becomes Me, "Reno 911") as the free-spirited Mona Ramsay and Wesley Taylor (Rock of Ages, The Addams Family) as Michael "Mouse" Tollivar.

Click here to read Playbill.com's story about the Tales cast.

http://www.playbill.com/news/article/150788-Scissor-Sisters-Jake-Shears-and-John-Garden-Talk-About-Musicalizing-Tales-of-the-City/pg1?sms_ss=twitter&at_xt=4dd0bf1d77f3a793,0

Creative team has high hopes for musical version of 'Tales of the City'

By Karen D'Souza

kdsouza@mercurynews.com
Posted: 05/12/2011 12:00:00 PM PDT
Updated: 05/13/2011 05:39:18 PM PDT

Welcome back to 28 Barbary Lane.

Once again, mysterious landlady Anna Madrigal will hold court over the bohemian denizens of her iconic Russian Hill boardinghouse, dispensing equal portions of wisdom and weed as she watches over her flock of dreamers, swingers and misfits, all looking for a sense of family amid the tumult of San Francisco in the '70s.

Only this time, Madrigal and the other "fantabulous" characters in Armistead Maupin's now mythic "Tales of the City" -- from wide-eyed Mary Ann Singleton to Michael "Mouse" Tolliver and hippie-granola bisexual Mona Ramsey -- will also break into song.

"What makes a story sing?" asks director Jason Moore during a rehearsal for the new "Tales of the City" musical, which makes its world premiere at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater on Wednesday. "Love or loss or emotions so intense that you just have to break into song. In this case, it's people looking for love and trying to find themselves in the big city, trying to find their way in the world, trying to make a family for themselves."

It was lyricist Jeff Whitty of "Avenue Q" fame who first believed "Tales" -- which will continue in previews until its official opening May 31 -- was dying to be reborn as a musical.

The Tony-winner enlisted a top-notch creative team, including Moore ("Shrek the Musical," "Avenue Q") and Jake Shears and John Garden of the glam-rock band Scissor Sisters. In an email to Shears, to pique his interest in the project, Whitty described the musical this way: "From a storytelling perspective, it's 'Les Misérables' in scale, but with polyamory, drugs, joy and death."

Obviously the pitch worked, and now "Tales" is on the verge of coming home to the city of its birth, a prospect that thrills and scares the librettist.

"It's terribly intimidating to be in San Francisco but also wonderful at the same time," says Whitty, who has been working on this project intermittently since 2006. "No production will ever be as cool as this one. This is the home of the books."

Maupin, for one, instinctively felt that this valentine to the city, which began as a serial in the Chronicle in 1976, belonged at ACT, where the $2.5 million production ranks as the most expensive show in the company's history. "I have always had a lot of respect for ACT," Maupin says, "and I felt that the musical should be homegrown, just as the original serial was."

"Tales" came to define not only the zeitgeist of 1970s San Francisco as a freewheeling mecca of disco balls and sexual liberation, but also the enduring spirit of the city as a place where fabulousness is a state of mind and eccentricity trumps conformity every time. Maupin's episodic soap opera fueled the lore of the city as an oasis where quirkiness never goes out of style.

—‰'Tales' is very close to our collective hearts, and it has been a joy to watch the characters we all know and love come to life," says Carey Perloff, artistic director of ACT. "I guess you could say it's ACT's gift to our city, and to Armistead, who has given all of us so much pleasure and recognition."

Indeed, though the stories always had a pop-culture impact, they have grown in critical estimation over time. As one reviewer put it: —‰'Tales' contains the universe, if not in a grain of sand, then in one apartment house."

Maupin, 66, is quick to play down his accomplishment, even though the wildly successful "Tales" franchise now includes eight books (the first published in 1978), three hit TV miniseries starring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis and now the ACT musical.

"I have been tremendously happy to create a mythology that has been so personal for so many people," he says. "I always wanted to create a fictional address that took on a sort of geographical reality for people, like Tara in 'Gone with the Wind.' "

(For the record, Maupin once tried to find Tara, unsuccessfully, just as many tourists try to make a pilgrimage to Barbary Lane, to no avail.)

Sitting in on rehearsals, the author says he has gotten a real kick out of watching ACT's cadre of young bucks transport his characters into the world of musical theater. He has become close pals with Whitty, and trusts him to channel the essence of his work.

"They are honoring the characters completely," Maupin says. "There's something very flattering about watching a new generation interpreting your work."

Indeed, as he ages, he finds himself identifying with the older characters in the tales, instead of the young ones.

"When I first wrote them I was young; now I know what it is like to be in your 60s and be in love," says the novelist. "I have been all of these characters at one time or another over the last 35 years."

Whitty has tried hard to remain true to the spirit, tone and scope of the book and its characters.

"There's such a love of humanity in Armistead's work," Whitty says. "That's what I want to capture. The storytelling is so rich. I think for all of us in the creative team, this has been a real labor of love."

Encompassing a campy daisy chain of nearly four dozen characters, the jampacked plot distills the action of the first book, as well as some aspects of the sequel.

"The musical really knows what it wants to be," Whitty says. "There's nothing I have cut that shouldn't be cut. All of the story lines always have to lead us back to Barbary Lane."

Some songs come straight out of the books, such as the "Dear Mama" number, which is based on the words in Mouse's coming-out letter to his family. Other songs that Whitty loved, but that didn't drive the action, had to be cut.

"I am slicing it and slicing it and slicing it," he says, "but with a scalpel, not a hatchet."

Whitty also hopes to use audience reactions to help shape the adaptation. "When I was working on 'Avenue Q,' I had no idea what I was doing, so I learned to listen to the audience and think on my feet," he says.

The Bay Area audience, in particular, comes with high stakes, since devotees of the material are likely to be out in full force. As Whitty puts it: "How do you keep things fresh and surprising for an audience that knows the story inside out?"

"There's a lot of goodwill here, but there are also very high expectations," Maupin says, "But from what I have seen, they are going to be met. I know theater folk have this superstition about talking about how well something is going, but the mood is reservedly optimistic."

"Tales" is the latest high-profile musical with Broadway buzz to be born in the Bay Area, following on the heels of such hits as "Memphis," "American Idiot" and "Wicked."

However, Maupin is not overly concerned about Broadway after the musical's ACT debut.

"Personally, I'd be more interested to see it go to the West End" in London, the author says. "I have a higher profile with the British than I do here, for some reason."

Right now, Whitty and his collaborators say all they want is to give San Francisco the "Tales" it deserves.

"We want to do justice to Armistead's creation," Whitty says. "In all honestly, even the simplest musical is impossible. They are hard to pull off. But if they can do 'Les Miz,' then we can do 'Tales!' "

Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Check out her theater reviews, features and blog at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza.

'Armistead Maupin's Tales
of the City'

Libretto by
Jeff Whitty,
music and lyrics by Jake Shears and John Garden, based on the novels by Armistead Maupin

When: Wednesday through July 10
Where: American Conservatory Theater,
415 Geary St.,
San Francisco
Tickets:
$40-$130;
415-749-2228, www.act-sf.org

http://www.mercurynews.com/entertainment/ci_18044078?nclick_check=1