Hot List: Tales of the City

5.22.2011

By Out.com Editors

Though it's certainly poised to make a run at Broadway, diehard fans will have to charge San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater this summer to catch the long-awaited stage adaptation of Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin's famous serialized novels. With Tony-winning Avenue Q playwright Jeff Whitty and Avenue Q director Jason Moore onboard, and Scissor Sisters front man Jake Shears and John Garden writing the score, hopes are Golden Gate Bridge high. Fortunately, the creators have secured an impressive cast, with Wesley Taylor (left) and Josh Breckenridge (right) taking on the roles of Michael "Mouse" Tolliver and Jon Fielding, one of literature's most memorable gay couples. On a break from rehearsal, Whitty and Shears discuss how they first discovered the Tales books, the difficulty casting the show, and the musical's filthiest moment.

Jake Shears: When did you first read the Tales books?

Jeff Whitty: I read them when I moved to New York City in 1993 and didn't know anybody. My sister gave me the first three, and I tore through them in just a couple of weeks, and it felt like the characters became my temporary New York friends. It was like my dream'to fall in with a group of people like that.

Shears: When did it dawn on you to write the musical?

Whitty: I was on a plane trip back to London, watching the Tales [PBS] miniseries. This was April 2006.

Shears: I still haven't watched the miniseries.

Whitty: You haven't?

Shears: Not since I was a kid. I wanted to steer clear since we started this show.

Whitty: Yeah, watch the miniseries. My partner encouraged me to watch it. How did you first experience Tales of the City?

Shears: I was probably about 13 or 14 (it was before I was out), and these two guys, Larry and Sean, introduced me to it. I know Larry has since passed away, but I always wondered what happened to Sean. He worked at the gas station, and there was a video store there, and I would come in and yap my head off. And I think they spotted a young gay teenager. Sean gave me a copy of TOTC and told me it was fantastic and I should read it. I remember completely falling in love with it. I was so impressionable, and it was just a perfect time for me to read these books. There's a real universality to those characters even now.

Whitty: Totally. I still think it could be relevant to a small-town boy somewhere else in 2011. The characters are so distinct, and whether you know them or not they have to be played by singular actors. Josh Breckenridge (Jon) has been with us for all of the workshops since New York Theatre Center. I was surprised that Mouse was so hard to find. I thought we'd have this embarrassment of riches with actors. There are two sides of Mouse. One is very open and vulnerable and trusting. But then there's also this wonderful irony he has that's a little dark. Actor after actor would come in and not quite hit both those levels until Wesley walked in. It was one of those auditions where he left the room and I knew we'd found our Mouse.

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