The Tales of the City
series, which spanned seven books and three miniseries, began as a
serial in The
San Francisco Chronicle
in the ’70s. It told the story of Mary Ann Singleton, a secretary
who never returned to Cleveland after a vacation in San Francisco, and
the “family” she found in her new digs at 28 Barbary Lane on Russian
Hill. Her family members included Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, her
gay best friend; Mona Ramsey, Michael’s sometimes-lesbian roommate;
Brian Hawkins, ’70s straight guy on the prowl (and her future husband);
and Anna Madrigal, the transgender “mother of them all” who grew
pot in her garden and taped joints to apartment doors as gifts for her “children.”
The creative team certainly
has the credentials to keep the show gay enough. Tony Award winner
Jeff Whitty is slated to write the book. If you’re not familiar
with his work in Avenue Q, check out the opening number.
(Whitty didn’t write the music
and lyrics, but he clearly had a lot to do with the campy gay sensibility.)
The musical team will consist of John Garden and Jason Sellards
(Scissor Sisters), so it’s likely that the show will have some era-appropriate
The story has so many intricate
story lines that some will clearly have to go. Obviously I hope the
lesbian plot remains. (Mona’s ex-lover, D’or — a white woman who’s passing
as black for the sake of her modeling career — moves back to the Bay
Area to win back Mona.) Perhaps they can do without the story of the
closeted gay husband of the socialite (pregnant by the Chinese deliveryman)
hooking up with the socialite’s gynecologist at the baths. Or maybe
they’ll downplay Brian’s endless quest to get laid. But they have to
keep Mary Ann’s doomed romance with the vitamin salesman/private investigator/child
pornographer. (I won’t tell you how that ends.)
I can imagine lots about the
show: a set featuring the Barbary Lane steps with the Golden Gate Bridge
and Transamerica building in the background, an opening number about
Cleveland, perhaps a song and dance number with the Sisters of Perpetual
what I cannot picture is the casting. The original miniseries was so
perfectly cast that I cannot fathom seeing others in the roles.
First, there was Laura Linney as Mary Ann.
In 1993, I didn’t yet know
that Laura Linney was one of the best actresses in the world. But I
soon learned. She was Mary Ann, and I cannot imagine anyone else
Then there was Olympia Dukakis as Anna Madrigal.
And the lesbians of various
Barbara Garrick was
wonderfully uptight as socialite Dede Halcyon Day. She’s not a lesbian
in the first book, but she gets there eventually. Then there’s Chloe
Webb, who was perfect as hippie, “hasbian” Mona. (She becomes
a full-fledged lesbian later, with no explanation.) Finally, there’s
Cynda Williams as D’or — who ends up with Dede a book or two later.
Plus there were some memorable
supporting roles. There was the inimitable Parker Posey as Connie
And there was even Janeane
Garofolo in a bit part.
Sigh. I cannot even begin to
come up with a possible Broadway cast this good.