Friday, June 3, 2011

The city stops to listen to its 'Tales'

Leah Garchik
Friday, June 3, 2011

The press kit contained a package of rolling papers, a box of matches and a condom. That sums up the era of "Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City," the musical version of which was welcomed by American Conservatory Theater on Wednesday with dinner in Union Square, a performance and an after-party at Ruby Skye.

With the notable exception of a couple of the Scissor Sisters, most of the 700 or so partygoers converging on tented Union Square had forsaken their bell bottoms for tuxedos and gowns - Charlotte Shultz notably in Alexander McQueen - and the only non-cast member sporting a salute-to-the-'70s mustache was Mayor Ed Lee. He'd been living in Berkeley, a law student at Boalt during that era, he said, and as a member of the Asian Law Caucus, "making trouble with the city" over evictions at the I-Hotel. He knew about "Tales" but "I didn't know people like that."

"Here we have the panoply," cracked Armistead Maupin at the sight of couture-clad Joy Bianchi next to a gaggle of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and cast members from "Vice Palace: The Last Cockettes Musical." The mix caused a chic-to-cheeky dilemma: Arriving partygoers wrestled with kissy-kissy technique while greeting pals wearing aggressive makeup (palm frond eyelashes, rainbow-striped faces augmented with patches of facial hair).

Just inside the front door, Ken McNeely, California president of AT&T California, a major supporter of the production, beamingly described his company as a "bold leader" sponsoring a "bold production." Required gala preliminaries - thanking everyone who provided creative and financial support - were handled cleverly by "Beach Blanket Babylon" cast members, who "mentioned every sponsor you could think of," said Jo Schuman Silver. (Artistic Director Carey Perloff, who'd spent the weekend at her daughter Lexie's Harvard graduation, said Silver had sung her the thank-you song on the phone while she was at the airport.)

The plane of Maupin's special guest, Laura Linney, was delayed by three hours, but she made it to the stage in time to pay touching tribute to the writer who'd changed her life; Jim Hormel and Michael Nguyen were just back from Luxembourg, where the San Francisco Symphony was playing Mahler. And the excited hum at dinner went up a few octaves when McCalls served dessert, a re-creation of Blum's coffee crunch cake.

Maupin reminisced to tablemates about former Chronicle Managing Editor Gordon Pates, so fretful over the gay content of "Tales" that he made a chart listing homosexual characters and heterosexual characters. After one episode in which a dog was described as having humped a socialite's leg, Maupin persuaded the editor to put the dog in the hetero column.

P.S.: At the after-party, star Judy Kaye said playing Anna Madrigal is "the time of my life. I was starting to think that the really great roles were over, that I'd be playing grandmothers. But here I am, in one of the greatest roles I've ever been asked to play." There's no guarantee if the show goes to Broadway, she'll be in it, but "if they want me, I'd do backflips. I'd do anything. I'm not shy about it. I'd like to ride this little puppy."

P.P.S.: ACT raised something like $980,000 from the event. And in a kind of nonprofit piggybacking, Nextcourse, a food education program for low-income groups, conducted an eBay auction for a pair of tickets to the opening gala. They made $3,000.

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