By Jeff Walsh
Tales of the City, the musical based on the beloved books by Armistead Maupin, opens in San Francisco tonight. The story is set in the 70s and brings together a magic group of characters for a timeless story of self-discovery, family, and community.
The show fuses Maupin's books with some of the creative team behind Avenue Q, and music written by singer Jake Shears and musician John Garden of the dance pop band, The Scissor Sisters (My review of the show will run later this week).
I recently spoke with Shears during the show's preview run, and here's what we had to say:
I just saw the Scissor Sisters at The Warfield. You were just opening shows for Lady Gaga. You performed at Coachella. And now you’re in San Francisco doing a musical? Is that a weird adjustment to make?
Well, I’ve been working on the show for about five years. But, yeah, it’s kind of like crazy whiplash opening for Gaga, doing our own shows, and going right from the last night of the tour straight into production rehearsal the next day. It’s been quite a lot of work. And then, after that, playing The Warfield, playing Coachella… and then back into production rehearsals. It’s been a big job.
The first couple of weeks were hard, just because that is some of the hardest work you’ve got to do. But it’s just nice to be in the same bed every night and live in San Francisco for a little while and just do your work. I feel so relaxed now. I’ve been having a great time.
I obviously can’t wait for opening night, to the point where I have a preview ticket before press opening night, because I couldn’t wait…
What is your reaction to being able to work on not only a musical in general, but Tales of the City? Did that book impact you?
I read it for the first time when I was 13 years old. It was given to me by this gay couple in my hometown, who I was friends with. I think they figured out I was gay before I did. And Tales of the City definitely helped me come closer to figuring that out.
So, the books were very important to me from a very young age. It was the first time I ever read anything that had a very positive gay point of view. And it really affected me.
A few years later, I passed the book on to my mom, who loved them. They are books that bring people together. Whenever you meet someone else who’s read them, or whenever you pass them on, they’re always so much fun to talk about.
And I think that communal aspect is one of the reasons why I think people love Tales of the City so much. Once it’s in your heart, Tales of the City lives with you for the rest of your life. You don’t forget these characters.
So, I was always chomping at the bit to write a musical, and then when Jeff Whitty came to me and said it was Tales of the City, I immediately had that sensation of ‘Oh my God, I… am just… I have no
idea what I’m doing… and this is going to be a crazy ride, but let’s do it.’