It’s not unusual for a new musical to premiere in San Francisco prior to being re-tooled on its way to Broadway. But the world premiere of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City at American Conservatory Theater (through July 31) is a purely San Francisco experience.
The musical is based on the first two of Maupin’s eight Tales novels (originally serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle), which capture the free-wheeling, pot-smoking, gay liberation era of San Francisco in the late ‘70s. The stories were later filmed as a PBS mini-series, which introduced them to an international audience.
To this day, tourists come to San Francisco searching for the fictional 28 Barbary Lane, home to Maupin’s motley crew of multi-sexual misfits, and their spiritual den mother, the eccentric Anna Madrigal (beautifully portrayed on stage by Broadway’s Judy Kaye).
The stories were adapted by the Tony Award–winning creators of Avenue Q (librettist Jeff Whitty and director Jason Moore) and the musical minds behind the gay-friendly glam-rock band Scissor Sisters (composers Jake Shears and John Garden).
Broadway producer, ACT Trustee, and dot429 member Lorenzo Thione shared his insights on what’s next for the show. “There are no definite plans for the production, but we hope and believe there can be a bright future for the show on other stages, including the Broadway stage. I have no specific plans to be otherwise involved in bringing this to its next steps, but I do work in this industry, so never say never.”
Thione admits that there were challenges in translating Maupin’s books into a musical. “The richness and wealth of material in the Tales of The City books is incredible, so it’s a big feat that the creatives could condense so much material into a cohesive story about these characters with a beginning and a resolution in the course of an evening. Meshing the story telling with the eclectic score of the Scissor Sisters was another first-time challenge for this team, but one that was pulled off beautifully.”
Maupin was also deeply involved in the creative process. “Jake would play his songs for Armistead all the time as he was composing, and he was always there to provide support, inspiration and insight. But as a good father to his baby, he was willing and able to let the creatives do their job and bring a whole new wonderful piece to life.”