The American Conservatory Theater did it again – a wonderful musical adaptation of an iconic book that captured the essence of a city. When Armistead Maupin came to San Francisco he was securely in his closet but the city, and the sexual revolution that it was undergoing in the 70s, encouraged him to put his social experiences into a news paper column (that later made it into a book, and a TV series) and to come out of the closet.
This adaptation owes much of its brilliance to three people – the singer actor Judy Kaye, and music and lyrics duo Jake Shears and John Garden. Judy Kaye’s voice is to die for. Mary Ann Singleton (Betsy Wolfe) arrives in the big bad city and soon finds herself rooming in a building owned by Anna Madrigal (Judy Kaye). The “commune” houses many others whom we bump into as the story progresses.
They are all intriguing in their own way and have back stories that are quickly filled in, mostly through song. None are more interesting that Mouse Tolliver (Wesley Taylor), a young gay man whose mother has signed up for the Anita Bryant “Save our Children” campaign against gays, and Mona Ramsey (Mary Birdsong) who is a free spirit by night and an advertizing executive in the day time. But the person who keeps us all mesmerized is the wonderful Judy Kaye – who plays Anna Madrigal, a benevolent woman who keeps all these lost souls under her protective wing. They are all looking for love in the city that has in abundance people of all sexual persuasions!
Maupin wrote these stories based on what he overheard in bars and hangouts after his arrival into San Francisco. It is interesting to note that other than Mary Anne, the dying Edgar Halcyon (Richard Poe) who falls for Anna Madrigal, and Mona Ramsey – no one really is straight and normal. Anna herself has a huge secret, and when she tells Mona (“her” daughter) about this her life starts to unravel. However, it is all possible in our fair city, and it is all plausible and wonderfully presented – right from the opening with a huge disco ball casting its rotating spots of bright colors all across the ornate ceiling of the Geary Theater, the play has us riveted to the shenanigans on stage. A must watch, and as it tours the US it may come to your city – do not miss it!