Jake Shears opens up on Tales of Town, Tammy Faye and the disco renaissance to come

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Ten years ago, the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco staged a new musical based on the work of Armistead Maupin Tales of the city, an extensive series of novels that first gained public attention in 1976 as a chronicle in the Chronicle of San Francisco. Set around a Russian Hill apartment complex run by quirky pot-smoker Anna Madrigal, the books light up the fog by the bay to reveal the lives of disgruntled housewives, freed Midwesterners and locals. freewheeling homosexuals who inhabit the city of Golden Gate. .

Maupin has written nine novels in total (the last published in 2014) and the stories have been turned into a sporadically produced television series starring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis (most recently for Netflix in 2019).

“I have always felt that Tales of the city is the the Lord of the Rings of San Francisco, ”said Jake Shears, one of the creators of the musical (along with co-composer John Garden and book author Jeff Whitty). Shears is the frontman of The Scissor Sisters, whose music provided the soundtrack for this college year reporter. While it has been some time since the group got together for a kiki, Shears has undertaken a number of creative endeavors, including a solo album, a debut album on Broadway, and a new musical about Tammy Faye Bakker which he is writing with Elton John.

His first musical, Tales of the city, is currently available to stream only during this LGBT Pride Weekend. I spoke with Shears about the show and his plans to get the world dancing now that the nightclubs are finally open again.

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

When did you first learn about Tales of the city?

I was about 13 years old and I lived in a very small island. And there was a gay couple on the island – Sean and Larry. I became friends with them and hung out with them. I wasn’t out yet or anything, but I think they probably saw that I was a gay kid. They played me tons of great music. Larry was sadly dying of AIDS at the time. And one day Sean gave me Tales of the city. It was the first time in my life that I recognized myself in a book. I devoured it. It’s always been a special story for me, because you never know what effect you’re going to have on a child’s life when you pass something like that on.

Your music has always had a disco touch. Have you always wanted to put that sound on stage?

I wasn’t necessarily just going to the disco. With John Garden, who co-wrote everything with me, I think we were just writing our way. I’ve always written in a style reminiscent of the 70s, whether it’s pop songs or dance music. This time is in my wheelhouse. I didn’t have to put too much effort into finding a voice for the music to match this show. It’s already in me.

Jeff Whitty’s book features several coming-out moments, including a second act letter Michael writes to his conservative Southern parents in which he sings, “If you and daddy made me as I am, I want you. thank you, mom. ” Where does this line come from?

It comes straight out of the book. We have musicalized this letter. It’s not verbatim, but we really took Armistead’s language and put it to music. This is my favorite part of the whole series.

Betsy Wolfe plays Mary Ann Singleton and Wesley Taylor plays Michael “Mouse” Tolliver in Tales of the city.
(© Kevin Berne)

Is going out still as important as it was ten years ago when you wrote that musical? I am thinking in particular of Carl Nassib, the defensive end of the Las Vegas Raisers who has just declared himself gay.

Yes, it was amazing. There is a world that needs it so badly. Visibility is the key in many ways to changing hearts and minds – not just visibility, but relationships. I have a whole family from the South, and it changes minds when you’re just in their life. I think a lot of homophobia comes from people who think they don’t know gay people.

Tales of the city was your first musical, but it won’t be your last. What is going on with Tammy Faye?

I am currently at London Airport. We’ve been working on it for three days. I just had lunch with Elton. The score is fantastic. Musicals take a long time, so really starting to see them come together is very exciting. I can’t make any announcements about when you’ll see him on stage, but it’s not too far away.

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that a huge amount of great dance music was released last year: Gaga’s Chromatic, that of Kylie Disco, your own song “Fusion” – all in a year when the clubs were closed. With all this pent-up energy, are we on the brink of a disco renaissance?

I think people want to dance. I’m almost done with a new album myself. I released a new song a week and a half ago that is really a disco song, called “Do the Television”. The response to the song has been incredible. It makes me so happy to have a large arsenal of others where this came from.

I’m definitely up for going out and dancing, and I think nightlife is a growing industry right now. Is that why you became an investor in The Q, Hell’s Kitchen’s new multi-story gay club?

Yes! I will be there Friday for the opening. For me, it was a chance to reinvest in the world without which I wouldn’t be who I am. I think nightlife is where so many amazing people cut their teeth and find inspiration, especially in a city like New York. You don’t want this to die. This club is the kind of place New York really needs right now.

I love that it’s in the space that was once occupied by the Social Bar, which was the Irish pub where all the sailors gathered during Fleet Week.

Hopefully they will come back.

I’ll drink this!

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