Embodying Michael 'Mouse' Tolliver
by Richard Dodds
It was three days before the Pride parade, and Wesley Taylor was happy that the event was skewing audience demographics at Tales of the City. "We love nothing more than a theater full of gays," said the young actor who plays Michael "Mouse" Tolliver in the new musical based on Armistead Maupin's stories. "It's a warm and embracing energy that you can actually feel."
Only 24 years old, Taylor has already been featured in two long-run Broadway hits – Rock of Ages and The Addams Family – and he turned down several lucrative offers in New York to sign up for the summer run of Tales of the City in San Francisco.
He landed the role of uber-gay Franz, the son of a dastardly real estate developer, in Rock of Ages only six months after graduating from college, and then found more steady paychecks from 18 months with The Addams Family.
"I think it's important when you're young and not starving and don't have a family to support to make decisions based on what you believe in," said Taylor, sporting a tank top, a casually arranged mop of hair, and the 70s moustache he grew for the role of Mouse. "I'm doing projects that excite me."
Taylor had previously auditioned for Tales director Jason Moore for other projects, and sensed a potential camaraderie. "Then I heard Jason was directing Tales, and someone said there was a part that was perfect for me. But I didn't know anything about the books or Armistead or the mini-series, but I auditioned and when I got called back, I started reading the books and got hooked."
Then came the waiting game. "I auditioned in front of Jason and Jeff [Whitty, the librettist], and they taped that and then had to send the tape to [songwriters] Jake Shears and John Garden, and to Armistead. Everyone had final casting say, and that become very frustrating."
But the waiting paid off, and Taylor had the chance to help mold his character in an entirely new musical. "I think you have to keep moving to keep yourself sane," said Taylor, who has already encountered the performer's brick wall. "Sometimes after you've done 400 performances, you have panic attacks on stage because you think, I cannot say this fucking line one more time. It's a real challenge to keep yourself awake and alive."
That shouldn't be a problem with Tales of the City during its ACT run, currently announced to end on July 31, though the actors are contractually committed to play through August should the run be further extended. Speaking of contracts, the male actors had to sign a nudity clause agreeing to bare all if requested. But a brief glimpse of Taylor's backside is about as naked as the show gets. "There was a lot more and it was cut down," Taylor said, "because we didn't want to seem like we were pandering to the gay community."
As Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, Taylor plays a young man enjoying the sexual freedoms of 1970s San Francisco, though fretting how his conservative parents will react when they find out he is gay. One of the most touching moments in the show comes when Mouse sings the coming-out letter he has written to his mother.
Though it can moisten theatergoers' eyes, Taylor says it's far from his favorite moment in the show. "Sometimes it's a moment I don't look forward to at all," he said. "It's a gift of a song, but it's hard, and sometimes after that scene I'm exhausted."
Taylor came out to his own parents, Southern Baptists living in Orlando, several years ago, and there has been muted acceptance. Although he was out of the closet with everyone he knew, he wasn't sure what his professional stance should be. "When I would come out of the stage door at Rock of Ages, people were asking me if I was really gay. I didn't say yes or no, but was just shocked by the audacity of the fans. I finally decided life is too short, and I want to celebrate my life and be part of the movement."
Taylor's experiences with Tales of the City and the city of San Francisco itself have further strengthened his sense of a gay fraternity. "To be completely honest with you," he said, "I did not use to agree with things like Pride or something like the BET channel. Here we are fighting for equality, but at the same time it felt like a step backwards to emphasize your differences. Now I see we are celebrating a community that has gone through a lot of hardships. It's about standing tall and saying this is who we are."
From the inspirational to the tabloid-ial, since there is time for one last question. What's his relationship status? It was well-known, at least in chat-room circles, that he was dating a popular young television star. "You have to be very careful when you're dating another actor who is also in the spotlight because fans want to know everything about your relationship. And after we broke up, that's what people wanted to hear about at the stage door, and that was the last thing I wanted to talk about."
Is he dating now? "Yes, I'm seeing someone in New York. And he's not an actor. Yeah!"