×

Tales of the City

An extremely rare venture into a full-blown, potentially Broadway-bound, world-premiere musical.

With:
Mona Ramsey - Mary Birdsong
Jon Fielding - Josh Breckenridge
Norman Neal Williams - Manoel Felciano
Mother Mucca - Diane J. Findlay
Anna Madrigal - Judy Kaye
DeDe Halcyon-Day - Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone
Edgar Halcyon - Richard Poe
Connie Bradshaw - Julie Reiber
Brian Hawkins - Patrick Lane
Beauchamp Day - Andrew Samonsky
Michael "Mouse" Tolliver - Wesley Taylor
Mary Ann Singleton - Betsy Wolfe

ACT’s track record with musicals has been sparse and uninspired. So it’s a particular pleasure to see “Tales of the City” — an extremely rare venture into a full-blown, potentially Broadway-bound, world-premiere musical — turn out very nicely indeed. Lesser results would probably still have given the company a home-turf hit given lingering affection for local scribe Armistead Maupin’s beloved San Francisco-set books. But as is, prospects for a commercial future are promising, especially if the ingratiating show finds a way to maintain buoyancy through a second act that lays on melodrama and sentimentality a bit thick.

The “Tales of the City” books (the first two tapped here) didn’t necessarily seem a natural fit for this form. Originally serialized in local newspapers, they put a witty contemporary spin on cliffhanger soap operatics with a combination of light satirical wit and constant narrative twists that might well have defied musicalization.

Popular on Variety

But Jeff Whitty’s book and the score by clever alt-rock act Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears and John Garden mostly translate the books’ playful yet heartfelt flavor with aplomb.

It’s the Bicentennial in 1976, and after five days’ vacation in S.F., corn-fed Midwesterner Mary Ann Singleton (Betsy Wolfe) calls her parents in Ohio to say she’s not coming back. Her wide-eyed enchantment with the City by the Bay at its height of Me Decade hedonism — though the latter takes some getting used to — is abetted when she’s taken into the home of landlady Anna Madrigal (Judy Kaye), a pot-growing Earth Mother who clucks over her tenants like a hen over chicks.

Mona gets Mary Ann a job at her firm as secretary to cantankerous CEO Edgar Halcyon (Richard Poe), whose family is “like the Kennedys of S.F., except without all that basic common decency stuff.”

She’s promptly hit on by the boss’s son-in-law Beauchamp (Andrew Samonsky), a seduction chronicled in the sharp “Bolero.” But that proves only her first disillusionment.

Ninety-minute first act takes a little while to find its feet on Douglas W. Schmidt’s set of snaking S.F.-walkup back staircases.

But Whitty’s sharp book and the pleasantly diverse if infrequently memorable songs (referencing ’70s disco, Top 40 soft rock and “Hair”-like Broadway “rock” as well as mainstream show-tunery) admirably thread a crowded narrative agenda in terms both spoken and sung. Helmer Jason Moore keeps things brisk, fluid and frequently funny, if not particularly stylish (apart from Beaver Bauer’s flashback costumes). Larry Keigwin’s choreography, not always distinctive enough, excels in celebration of upmarket gay snobbery “Homosexual Convalescent Center.”

After intermission, however, progress bogs down a tad as a pileup of less humorous crises (mostly from Maupin’s first sequel tome, “More Tales of the City”) trigger several more conventional, heavy-handed scenes and songs. It all ends in multiple reunions and hugs, reminding us that a chorus of hugs is never a good way to end a musical.

Nonetheless, “Tales of the City” is always diverting and never worse than merely imperfect. In its casting, ACT reached well beyond its usual bounds toward experienced Broadway (or at least Broadway-aspirant) personnel, with winning results. Wolfe’s Mary Ann, especially, is a naif with a heart, a brain and a big voice. A seven-piece pit band sounds larger than life, and amplification for the singers was terrific on press night.

Tales of the City

ACT, San Francisco; 1,035 seats; $127 top

Production: An American Conservatory Theater presentation of a musical in two acts with libretto by Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Jake Shears and John Garden. Directed by Jason Moore. Choreography, Larry Keigwin.

Creative: Set, Douglas W. Schmidt; costumes, Beaver Bauer; lighting, Robert Wierzel; sound, John Shivers; orchestrations, Bruce Coughlin; music supervisor, Carmel Dean; arrangements, Stephen Oremus, Dean; music director-conductor, Cian McCarthy; dramaturg, Michael Paller; casting, David Capartelliotis; assistant director, Travis Greisler. Opened, reviewed May 31, 2011. Running time: 2 HOURS, 55 MIN.

Cast: Mona Ramsey - Mary Birdsong
Jon Fielding - Josh Breckenridge
Norman Neal Williams - Manoel Felciano
Mother Mucca - Diane J. Findlay
Anna Madrigal - Judy Kaye
DeDe Halcyon-Day - Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone
Edgar Halcyon - Richard Poe
Connie Bradshaw - Julie Reiber
Brian Hawkins - Patrick Lane
Beauchamp Day - Andrew Samonsky
Michael "Mouse" Tolliver - Wesley Taylor
Mary Ann Singleton - Betsy WolfeWith: Keith A. Bearden, Jessica Coker, Kristoffer Cusick, Kimberly Jensen, Alex Hsu, Stuart Marland, Jeff McLean, Pamela Myers, Josh Walden.

More Legit

  • Protesters demonstrate at the Broadway opening

    'West Side Story' Broadway Opening Night Sparks Protests

    Roughly 100 protestors gathered outside the Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” on Thursday night, carrying placards and chanting in unison to demand the removal of cast member Amar Ramasar. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ramasar has got to go,” they cried while holding signs that read “Keep predators off the stage,” “Sexual predators shouldn’t get [...]

  • West Side Story review

    'West Side Story': Theater Review

    Whittled down to one hour and forty-five minutes, “West Side Story” – with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins — has grown exceedingly dark and mislaid some of its moving parts in the new Broadway revival from edgy Belgian director Ivo Van Hove. (Can [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Closing in March After Box Office Struggles

    “The Inheritance,” a sprawling and ambitious epic that grappled with the legacy of the AIDS epidemic, will close on March 15. The two-part play has struggled mightily at the box office despite receiving strong reviews. Last week, it grossed $345,984, or 52% of its capacity, a dispiriting number for a show that was reported to [...]

  • MCC theater presents 'Alice By Heart'

    Steven Sater on Adapting 'Alice by Heart' From a Musical to a Book

    When producers approached lyricist Steven Sater (“Spring Awakening”) to adapt Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into a musical, his initial reaction was to recoil. His initial thought was that the book didn’t have a beginning, middle and an ending. But Sater pulled it off with his production of “Alice By Heart.” After an off-Broadway [...]

  • The Lehman Trilogy review

    Sam Mendes' 'Lehman Trilogy' Kicks off Ahmanson's New Season

    Sam Mendes’ “The Lehman Trilogy,” which took London’s West End by storm will be part of the Ahmanson’s lineup for the 2020-21 season. It will be joined by Broadway hits “Hadestown” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Artistic director Michael Ritchie announced the season that will also feature four fan favorites and another production to be [...]

  • Zoe Caldwell Dead

    Zoe Caldwell, Four-Time Tony Winner, Dies at 86

    Zoe Caldwell, an Australian actress with a talent for illuminating the human side of imposing icons such as Cleopatra and Maria Callas in a career that netted her four Tony Awards, died on Sunday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to her son Charlie Whitehead. She was 86. Caldwell occasionally appeared in television and [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band interview

    Listen: How 'Cambodian Rock Band' Became One of the Most Produced Plays in the U.S.

    One of the hottest trends in American theater this season is Cambodian surf rock from the 1970s — and that’s thanks to “Cambodian Rock Band.” Listen to this week’s Stagecraft podcast below: Playwright Lauren Yee’s genre-bending stage show, part family drama and part rock concert, has become one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. this season. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content