'Tales of the City' a San Francisco treat 

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



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.

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Greg Archer

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