“TALES OF THE CITY” – Totally Sensational, Totally San Francisco

Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Long-awaited is an over-worked expression when it’s applied to the transformation of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City – one of the most beloved and unconventional works of fiction ever created – into a fully realized Broadway musical. When it was announced that the team of Lead vocalist Jake Shears (SCISSOR SISTERS) and keyboard artist John “JJ” Garden would create the score for this multiplex multi-leveled multi-sexual spin on our Baghdad By The Bay, the only possible response was – “Of course!” Shears and Garden have crafted a musical theatre piece that propels the sparkle and all the intriguing subtext of Maupin’s classic epic. Fans of the extraordinary PBS television series will find that most of the songs match the characters and that the moods and rhythms of the score are fitting to a favorite scene – like, at the Endup. And also for “Beauchamp” and “Jon’s” quick exchange at the baths. The score was so apropos of Tuesday’s “Buddy Nights” at 8th & Howard. The cast members are ideally matched for their characters and the songs and vocals never get in the way. But TALES OF THE CITY is missing a catchy tune. There’s nothing to hum going up the aisle. The show is beautifully paced, the language gets really explicit, we get to see Mary Birdsong (as “Mona”) bare her tits and Wesley Taylor (as “Michael”) bare his ass, and the production lucked-out when Judy Kaye signed-on as “Anna Madrigal”. It was all climactic screaming at the curtain call. The joint was really jumpin’.

PATRICK LANE (Brian Hawkins) and BETSY WOLFE (Mary Ann Singleton)
All production photos by Kevin Berne

The libretto by Tony Award winning Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) pares down the first book in the series to the fastest three hours ever spent in the Theatre. A number of supporting characters and sub-plots were eliminated leaving the most essential lines of the story intact. I missed “Ruby Miller” (played by Edie Adams in the mini-series), Mr. Halcyon’s buxom spiritual advisor. Scenic designer Douglas W. Schmidt’s triple tiered set and flying shutters convert 28 Barbary Lane into the high rise advertising offices of Edgar Halcyon (Richard Poe), the park bench up in Alamo Square, a disco roller rink, and the high and slippery cliffs above the Bay that prove fatal to child pornographer and blackmailer “Norman Neal Williams”. Manoel Felciano is sufficiently creepy in the role and, yes, we see him fall (from a creepy-enough height) straight down and through the fog-covered stage trap. Very effective. The bastard deserved it.


JUDY KAYE – as “Anna Madrigal” (center)
MARY BIRDSONG – as “Mona Ramsey” (Mary Birdsong)
Scenic Designs by Douglas W. Schmidt

A.C.T. favorite Judy Kaye (Mamma Mia!, Ragtime, Phantom of the Opera, On the Twentieth Century on Broadway; Sweeney Todd and Souvenir at A.C.T.) takes on the iconic role of Anna Madrigal. Mary Birdsong (Reno 911! on Comedy Central; Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me and Hairspray on Broadway) is Mona Ramsey; A.C.T. core acting company member and Tony Award–nominated actor Manoel Felciano (Sweeney Todd on Broadway; Rock ’n’ Roll and John Doyle’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle at A.C.T.) plays Norman Neal Williams; celebrated actor Richard Poe (Cry-Baby and Present Laughter on Broadway), who got his professional start at A.C.T. in the 1960s, is Edgar Halcyon.

RICHARD POE (Edgar Halcyon) and JUDY KAYE (Anna Madrigal)

Patrick Lane is Brian Hawkins; award-winning actor Wesley Taylor (Rock of Ages and The Addams Family on Broadway) plays Michael “Mouse” Tolliver; and Betsy Wolfe (Everyday Rapture and Into the Woods on Broadway), who has been with the musical since its inception four years ago, is perfect as Mary Ann Singleton.


Rounding out the cast are Josh Breckenridge (Scottsboro Boys on Broadway) as Jon Fielding; Diane J. Findlay as Mother Mucca; Bay Area actor Alex Hsu as Lionel; Kathleen Monteleone (the national tour of Legally Blonde: The Musical) as DeDe Halcyon-Day; and Andrew Samonsky (South Pacific on Broadway) as Beauchamp Day. The ensemble includes Keith A. Bearden, Kristoffer Cusick, Kimberly Jensen, Stuart Marland, Pamela Myers, Julie Reiber, and Josh Walden.

“DeDe Halcyon-Day” (Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, center) is attended by nurses (Julie Reiber, left, and Kimberly Jensen) at the gynecologist’s office.

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City has been extended an additional two weeks through July 24th due to unprecedented demand. The world premiere musical has amassed the largest advance sale in A.C.T.’s history.
Click here to order tickets on-line: TALES OF THE CITY

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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