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June 2, 2011

TALES OF THE CITY -- THE 70's LOVE, LAUGHS, SURPRISES





A SCENE FROM 'TALES OF THE CITY' PHOTO: KEVIN BERNE


Tales of The City – “Marvelous moments!”

TALES OF THE CITY – GREAT THEATER ADVENTURE

This musical (Tales) is skillfully wrought entertainment. The performers deliver performances that are more than amazing. Where do they get all this vitality?  Trimming down the story would help to keep the flow going. Now, I’m not complaining. I did not get bored and the time – for me, just flowed along. However, I think to keep the audience intrigued, some pruning would help.

It all takes place in the wild and free 70’s in San Francisco. The principal location is on Barbary Lane where the landlady of a rental complex eventually ‘comes out’ and reveals that she is a transsexual. Oddly enough, one of her tenants does not know that the landlady is really her father. Yes, this is confusing – but the 70’s were a freewheeling time when Bell Bottom pants and paisley scarfs were adorning almost every head.

This was the time of the Disco and drugs and lots of marijuana. Picking up dates in the neighborhood and on Polk Street was a cinch. All you had to do was walk down the street and someone would pull over and ask: -- “Would you like a ride?” And, of course – everyone did want that ride.

Yes, there were times of heartbreak—but it was a hell-of-a-lot safer in those days than it is now. So, if you want to relive those days, this surely would be the musical to see. And, about the music? It’s good, but not great. In other words, it’s not hum able enough to remember, but you will hear glimpses of influence from other musicals like “Hair”. Also there are these songs that stood out: “The Next Time You See Me” (Anna Madrigal sings) this touching song…” Homosexual Convalescent Center” (is lots of fun)…and -- “No Apologies” – sung by Anna and Company is one of the best.

 The set is a little disappointing. I was hoping to see some semblance of “Barbary Lane.” What I saw was the back of a three story Tenement. However with clever lighting and movable sets they do capture some of the 70’s magic. There is even shades of the musical “Sunset Blvd.”

Landmarks are mentioned throughout the musical – “Endup Bar” (which can mean a couple of things) and the very popular “Savoy Tivoli” in North Beach, plus the soon to be torn down Jack Tar Hotel on Van Ness. A straight guy is asked by a Biker type – “Are you a bottom or a top?” – Straight guy sez: “Bottom!”  -- Biker leaves, and the straight guy sighs: “Oh, my god – it totally worked.” In other words he got rid of the guy.

Other 70’s Jargon: “The Pissy Queen from Sea Cliff.” Here’s another fun line: “What sign are you?” – Answer – “Do not disturb!” Like this comment a lot. – “We have boring people here” – “Have you tried Marin?”

The show is a dazzling look at San Francisco cultural history. Yes, it should be shorter and tighter and a really, really big memorable hit song, would help a lot. They may make changes along the way. And it may be bigger and brash as time goes on.

Near the end of the show “Anna Madrigal (Judy Kaye) visibly crumbles before us, as she is about to out herself.  And my eyes did get teary. Hard to fight it.

HOORAY TO THE CAST: Thanks to: Mary Birdsong, Josh Breckenridge, Manoel Felciano, Diane J. Findlay, Judy Kaye, Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, Richard Poe, Julie Reiber, Patrick Lane, Andrew Samonsky, Wesley Taylor and Betsy Wolfe.

Libretto by: Jeff Whitty. Music and Lyrics by Jake Shears and John Garden. Directed by Jason Moore. Based on Armistead Maupin’s books.

AT A.C.T.

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! – trademarked-

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and Produced and hosted a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED))) 




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