Feature

Tales of the City

Avenue Q creator Jeff Whitty and song writers Jake Shears and John Garden of the Scissor Sisters bring Armistead Maupin's quirky universe to the stage.

American Conservatory Theater
San Francisco
(415) 749-2228

***

No musical would be able to contain “all the characters, incidents, secrets, coincidences, and sly commentary” that Armistead Maupin packed into his first two Tales of the City novels, said Robert Hurwitt in the San Francisco Chronicle. Those books, about a bohemian 1970s boarding house in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood, are full of enough “interconnected plots and people” to fill several shows. As adapted by Avenue Q creator Jeff Whitty, with a hodgepodge of period-style songs by Jake Shears and John Garden of the Scissor Sisters, this musical is an enjoyable three-hour “celebration of sex, drugs, and all kinds of coming out.” But it could use some further pruning—a few songs should be cut, and though the production features several “deftly sketched” characters, too many are underdeveloped.

The show’s infectious charm makes its weaknesses forgivable, said Karen D’Souza in the San Jose Mercury News. Whitty skillfully captures Maupin’s quirky universe. Mary Ann Singleton, the wide-eyed young heroine from Ohio, is fetchingly played by Betsy Wolfe, even though she’s upstaged by Mary Birdsong’s “white-hot turn as a pill-popping hippie chick.” Absolutely nothing should be changed about Judy Kaye’s turn as Mrs. Madrigal, “the bohemian goddess-cum-landlady” who floats around in psychedelic robes and dispenses “sage bits of weed-infused wisdom” along with her strangely addictive brownies. “Some polishing and tightening” are needed elsewhere, but already “this Age of Aquarius flashback deserves to be seen on a Broadway stage.”

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