Tales of the City: 3 Things This New Musical Did Right

I had the great pleasure of visiting San Francisco recently to see the brand new musical, Tales of the City based on Armistead Maupin’s famous serial novels. I’m a huge fan of the books and was equally excited about the new musical. Though it’s still going through development and will likely be further refined, the musical has been a HUGE hit with audiences and ACT has the ticket sales stats to prove it. We can all learn from what these producers and writers did RIGHT!

 

The creative team for the new musical, Tales of the City. From left: Jason Moore, Jeff Whitty, John Garden & Jake Shears.1. The Author Was Involved.

1. The Author Was Involved.

They got off on the right foot when the show’s bookwriter, Jeff Whitty, met with Armistead Maupin to talk about the project directly. While there’s a chance the creative team could have secured the rights through publisher and agent channels, they took the time to get to know the author to gain his support and input. Right off the bat the creative team began to build trust among the series fans.

2. Significant Development Process.

They went through a multi-year multi-venue development process with readings in NYC and a stint at the O’Neill Center before putting it on it’s feet. A project this high profile could have been fast tracked to production but they took time (several years) to make sure it was done right.

3. They Premiered in “THE City.”

For a show that is a love story to San Francisco, holding a world premiere in San Fran’s own ACT was brilliant. In this day and age of bringing shows into Broadway without a try-out they could have simply skipped this step or even gone elsewhere – which would probably have alienated the true SF fan base who would be many miles away. Instead, it was born in its city of origin and the natives are quick to embrace their homegrown story.

On top of all that, they have extensive supporting materials in their program and online that educate the audience about the behind the scenes process. Clearly their efforts are paying off since the run keeps getting extended. And though they couldn’t manage to avoid a (some would say premature)  New York Times review they nevertheless deserve to be commended on a job very well done.

Anyone else see it in San Francisco? Comment below and let us know your opinion!

3 Responses to Tales of the City: 3 Things This New Musical Did Right

  1. Dennis Anderson says:

    As a San Francisco native who enjoyed Arnold Maupin’s work in the Chronicle when I lived there, I have been hoping to get there to see it this August or September. Want to see Billy Elliot (again) on same trip and, of course, you can’t go to SF without seeing the ever-changing, ever-entertaining “Beach Blanket Babylon” and something at Lorraine Hansberry. What a place! Thanks for boosting my interest even more; will report back if we get to go. And, in general, thanks for all that you do and for your many, many contributions to musical theater.

  2. Brisa says:

    Thank you for your kind words, Dennis. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Tales of the City after your visit this summer!

  3. Wish I knew you were here. Woulda bought you a meal or a cuppa. Or at least some sourdough bread, lol.

    I agree with two of your points. However, I think having the author involved is the downfall of this show. Everything that’s wrong, but charming about the books–which was right for a serialized newspaper column– was wrong for the show.

    It’s better to treat an adaptation like a new property. (See Gypsy. Whoever wrote the book it was based on–June Havoc I think– said to Arthur Laurents, “I wish I had thought of inventing a Herbie.”)

    From what I read, workshop audiences loved this show– and the director felt like it needed very little work before it got in front of an audience–more like editing.

    Makes me want to worry about who comes to a workshop.

    Reading between the lines, you thought it was in pretty rough shape, too. Great cast, though. Wesley Adams seemed like he jumped right off the screen from the PBS series into the musical.

    It’s interesting to think about Jeff Whitty– though he’s a Tony winner, he’s never written an adaptation. And Jason Moore, the director, adapted Shrek, but that’s it for his adaptations.

    I wish them well. I’m hoping they figure out to do more character songs in the first act and less group songs. That’ll help. And the show should open and close with Mrs. Madrigal, as her story is the most compelling.

    But what a cast!

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