East Bay Fall Arts Preview
Get the scoop on this season’s top dance performances, musicals, dramas, and concerts.
From Broadway-style musicals to legendary dance choreographers to cutting-edge symphonies, here’s your go-to guide to the performing arts.
Three to See
Stepping Out This Fall
01_ Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra’s Cinderella
One of the world’s great companies brings its glass slipper to UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, with a performance choreographed to Prokofiev’s glorious score. October 1–4, calperformances.org.
02_ Bollywood Masala Orchestra and Dancers of India
A vibrant cinematic group blending classical Indian and Western music visits Livermore’s Bankhead Theater for one night only. October 13, livermoreperformingarts.org.
03_ Riverdance’s 20th Anniversary
The phenomenally popular Irish dance experience taps through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre this fall. November 4–8, shnsf.com.
How do you know the holiday season has officially started? Diablo Ballet takes the Del Valle Theatre stage for A Swingin’ Holiday. The festive performance was choreographed by Sean Kelly (Movin’ Out, Billy Elliot) and is accompanied by a 16-piece orchestra playing onstage with the dancers.
“We had always wanted to create a holiday show and finally put it together in 2012,” says company founder Lauren Jonas. “It has been tremendously successful for us: We sold out all our performances last year.” November 13–15, diabloballet.org.
Q: What do dancers do just before the curtain rises?
A: If it’s Smuin Ballet, the dancers stand in a circle, hold hands, count to three in French, jump up and down three times, and shout, “buffalo!”
This quirky ritual, a tribute to Native Americans who believed that buffalo brought good luck, was created by the company’s late founder, Michael Smuin. The company’s Christmas Ballet runs November 20–21 at the Lesher Center, smuinballet.org.
The choreographer creates new work to celebrate five decades of dance.
For the past five decades, Twyla Tharp has dazzled audiences around the world with her inventive dance performances, matching creative and kinetic choreography to a staggering range of music—from classical compositions to Greenwich Village folk to California surf rock.
This fall, the New York–based artist celebrates her 50 years of professional dancing with a weekend of shows at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.
Q: Will this 50th anniversary tour highlight some of your favorite works as a choreographer, or will these be new performances?
A: The 50th Anniversary Tour is an evening of two new works. Preludes and Fugues to the music of J. S. Bach presents the world as it ought to be—balanced and in sync with itself. Yowzie is set to American jazz and presents the world as it is. I have visited both these worlds many times over the course of working 50 years.
Q: You’ve collaborated with so many contemporary musicians—Brian Wilson, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan—to create choreographies set to music not typically associated with dance. Have any of these connections been made here in the Bay Area?
A: Early performances with Bill Graham in San Francisco introduced me to David Byrne, [which led to 1981’s] The Catherine Wheel.
Q: You have a great history here in the Bay Area. You choreographed the ballet performances in the opera sequences for the Oscar-winning film Amadeus, which was produced at Berkeley’s Fantasy Studios. What are some of your favorite connections to this area?
A: I have always felt a real affinity for Bay Area audiences, reaching through many years and many premieres presented by my companies, including Sweet Fields [which debuted at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall in September 1996] and Surfer at the River Styx [which Company C Contemporary Ballet performed in Walnut Creek in 2011]. I am of course grateful there is an audience here for my work presented in the repertory of other companies.
Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour runs October 16–18 at Zellerbach Hall, calperformances.org.
Tip: Arrive early, and have a bite and some wine at Café Zellerbach located right in the hall, and open 90 minutes before evening performances.
Three to See
01_ Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical
Walnut Creek’s Center Repertory Company kicks off its season at the Lesher Center with this retrospective of the legendary pop singer. Through October 10, centerrep.org.
02_ The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance
Berkeley Repertory Theatre opens its new Osher Studio stage with this eccentric take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s famous opera. October 16–December 20, berkeleyrep.org.
03_ South Pacific
Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre reprises the beloved Broadway musical at Pleasanton’s Firehouse Arts Center. November 7–22, pcrtproductions.org.
The Full Monty
Expect singing, dancing, and male stripping in The Full Monty, Contra Costa Musical Theatre’s (CCMT) rendition of the uproarious stage musical about out-of-work, out-of-shape steelworkers who start a Chippendales-style act to pay the bills.
“The Full Monty is a very inspiring show,” says Danny Boyle, CCMT’s artistic director. “As the characters rid themselves of inhibitions, they rediscover self-esteem and take control of their lives.” October 9–November 7, ccmt.org.
Q: How does a play end if the author never finished writing the source material?
A: Let the audience decide! That’s what Lafayette’s Town Hall Theatre Company will do with The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Based on Charles Dickens’ final unfinished novel, Drood is a 19th century whodunit packed with deliciously diabolical characters and a script with more than 200 possible outcomes. The audience is told before the show begins that they will be called upon to choose the outcome of key plot points throughout the performance.
“You can come to this show every night, and you won’t see the same outcome twice,” says Artistic Director Joel Roster. October 3–24, townhalltheatre.com.
The Broadway superstar brings her newest smash musical to San Francisco.
Tony Award–winning actress—and singer of Frozen’s “Let it Go”—Idina Menzel is best known as a Broadway luminary, but she has plenty of Bay Area cred as well. Menzel appeared in Rent, filmed in Alameda, and starred in the original production of Wicked, which debuted in San Francisco before hitting it big on the Great White Way.
In November, Menzel returns to San Francisco to reprise her starring role in the musical If/Then, which explores the alternate realities of a life and career in New York City. The show features music by Tom Kitt (the arranger for Green Day’s American Idiot) and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey (The Last Ship), the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010 for their collaboration Next to Normal, before writing If/Then for Menzel.
Q: You’re jumping from a solo concert tour to reprising your role in the touring company of If/Then. Will it be difficult to switch gears?
A: I have a month and a half to dip my toe back into the If/Then world to see how much I remember. I feel insane; I wouldn’t have planned them to be that on top of each other, but I feel really passionate about getting If/Then out there. It’s something I’ve been involved with since its very beginning. I have to prioritize my schedule a little and still be a good mom. There’s a lot to juggle.
Q: How was it collaborating with composer Tom Kitt on If/Then?
A: He is one of the most talented people I know. He wants to write what is best for his performers, what fits in their voice well. He writes to our strengths.
Q: Was your national anthem performance at this year’s Super Bowl the most high-pressure performance of your career?
A: Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” was definitely up there, but it came in third place, behind singing for the president and Barbra Streisand. I had done a number of high-pressure gigs, including the Oscars. You start to understand how your body reacts.
Q: “Let It Go” has become an empowerment anthem for little girls. Did you realize the song would have that kind of impact when you recorded the Frozen soundtrack?
A: I knew it was a beautiful song when it was sent for me to learn, but I had no idea that it would go on to become this phenomenon. The beautiful thing about it is that it speaks to young people, and it also speaks to me as a woman. It’s a reminder about the things that are important: not hiding those things that make us powerful or different or extraordinary—those things that set us apart in the world.
If/Then runs November 10–December 6 at the Orpheum Theatre, shnsf.com.
Three to See
Laughs Are in Season
01_ The Rover
Berkeley’s Shotgun Players revive Aphra Behn’s 17th century comic romp, which explores three “traditional” roles for women: nun, wife, and prostitute. Edgy then, edgy now. October 15–November 15, shotgunplayers.org.
02_ Z Is for . . . Zombie
The improvisational Synergy Theater brings the zombie apocalypse to Walnut Creek, with hilarious results. October 16–17, synergytheater.com.
Lafayette’s Town Hall Theatre should have a huge holiday hit with this Pulitzer Prize–winning comedy about a grown man and his best friend—an invisible,
six-foot-tall rabbit. December 5–19, townhalltheatre.com.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
The Tony Award–winning Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike tells the story of three siblings, and the conflict that arises when one returns home with the intention of selling the family house, where the other two live.
If the play’s theme of losing an ancestral home sounds similar to the works of playwright Anton Chekhov, it’s no coincidence.
“It takes place in present-day Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which is where [playwright] Christopher Durang lives,” says Center Repertory Company director Mark Anderson Phillips. “He was looking out his window one day and thought, ‘What if my life was more like a Chekhov play?’ ” October 23–November 21, centerrep.org.
Behind the Scenes
Let It Snow
A Christmas Carol, based on the classic Charles Dickens story, has evolved since its earliest versions at the Lesher Center, with high-tech effects assisting in the appearance of ghosts from past, present, and future.
In recent years, the Center Repertory Company show’s final scene has featured snow falling inside the theater. Lighting director John Earls says that this particular visual trick has a long history in stagecraft.
“It’s essentially a very controlled aerated fluid, like a soap bubble,” says Earls. “It’s an effective technique that was used long before I was in the business.” December 10–20, centerrep.org.
The playwright on the West Coast premiere of his Pulitzer Prize–winning play.
This fall, Berkeley Repertory Theatre continues its tradition of presenting some of the most provocative theater in the Bay Area, with the West Coast premiere of Disgraced.
The play deals with issues of faith, race, and cultural identity. Playwright Ayad Akhtar, a wide-ranging writer who was born in New York and grew up in Milwaukee, was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for his depiction of a corporate lawyer forced to consider why he has so long camouflaged his Pakistani Muslim heritage.
Q: Has the reaction to Disgraced changed over the years in response to changing international events?
A: I wrote the play four years ago, and every time it’s done, folks comment on its timeliness. I don’t think it’s timely: I think it’s universal. The play isn’t just about Islam-in-America identity. It’s about identifying an “us” and a “them.” It confronts audiences with things they might not want to think about. What the play is talking about is not going away.
Q: How have the play’s success and the Pulitzer Prize affected your own identity?
A: When a play starts at a small theater, goes to Lincoln Center, and then goes on to London and Broadway, it changes an artist no matter what the work. This work was a kind of soul searching—one of a series that just poured out of me.
Q: Don’t you think most thoughtful American plays deal in some way with identity?
A: I think the question of who we are is the American story in a way. Central to the American experience is the rupture from the Old World and the renewal of the new world. I think Disgraced is the underside of that. There is a huge cost to that process, and that cost perhaps speaks to the loneliness of American life.
Q: What do you want the audience to take away from Disgraced?
A: I long to absorb the audience in a rich, living narrative experience, and deliver them back into their lives and into the world. And if something sticks, it will be on their terms, not my terms.
Disgraced runs November 6–December 20 at the Roda Theatre, berkeleyrep.org. —Robert Taylor
Tip: Show your Berkeley Rep ticket at Five at Hotel Shattuck Plaza to receive 10 percent off your food order (or your night’s stay, if you really want to go big). five-berkeley.com.
Three to See
Classical and Opera Options
01_ Madama Butterfly
Puccini’s spectacular tragic opera spends a Tri-Valley weekend at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater. October 3–4, livermoreperformingarts.org.
02_ Festival Opera
This Walnut Creek–based company offers two Indian-themed chamber operas—Gustav Holst’s Sāvitri and Jack Perla’s River of Light—at the Shadelands Art Center. November 13–14, festivalopera.org.
03_ California Symphony
The acclaimed orchestra’s winter concert at the Lesher Center features live accompaniment to the animated film The Snowman. December 22–23, californiasymphony.org.
Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club
Musician Ry Cooder and director Wim Wenders’ 1999 documentary, Buena Vista Social Club, resurrected the music and careers of Cuban musicians whose work had been squashed by the oppressive Castro regime. Thanks to the film and its soundtrack, these legends of Havana’s Golden Era dance halls have spent the past 16 years touring the world, performing sets of their vibrant son, bolero, cha-cha-cha, and guajiro music.
Alas, all good things must pass—and the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club is heading out on its adios tour. The group’s stop at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall should be one for the ages. October 9, calperformances.org.
Behind the Scenes
Making Classical Music Cool
Matilda Hofman, conductor and music director of the Diablo Symphony Orchestra, knows how to make classical music feel as exciting today as it did centuries ago. The War of the Romantics concert at the Lesher Center will present an afternoon of Brahms, Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner as a musical debate between the great composers.
“There was a fiery debate between 19th century critics about this music,” says Hofman. “I want to explore these conflicts with our audience.” November 22, diablosymphony.org.
Meet the hippest man in symphonic music.
Mason Bates grew up in Virginia but claims to be a Bay Area transplant “who clings to this area like a native.” The Juilliard-trained composer moved to the East Bay to work on his Ph.D. in composition at UC Berkeley. When he wasn’t in class, Bates earned a reputation as one of the Bay Area’s top electronic dance music DJs while also completing a composer-in-residence program with the California Symphony.
Bates has become one of the country’s most-performed living composers. The Oakland Symphony kicks off its 2015–2016 season with the West Coast premiere of Bates’ Devil’s Radio, which the composer describes as “a mischievous acoustic piece that sounds like Lucifer throwing his weight around.”
Q: Your music has such an eclectic range of sounds, from big symphonic arrangements to techno beats to radio communications. What are the influences that brought you to music?
A: Gershwin’s An American in Paris was a huge influence: I can remember the first time I heard that iconic piece. I was riding in the car with my father, coming back from the family farm in Virginia. I was probably 12 at the time, and I had always assumed that the orchestra was the domain of long dead composers, not someone from the past 50 years.
Q: How valuable was your experience in the composer-in-residence program at the California Symphony?
A: The California Symphony has one of the most outstanding composer-in-residence programs in the country. They have this orchestra-as-laboratory idea, and they let the composer work in ways that almost never happen anywhere else.
Q: Why is it important that people come to listen to a live performance in a venue such as the Paramount Theatre in Oakland?
A: Live music is uniquely powerful. You just cannot achieve that live experience on a laptop with tinny speakers. When you go to a concert at the Paramount, even before a note is played, you get this palpable audience buzz. Every concert there feels like something of a rave: You have this energy of tons of people coming together.
Q: How does it feel to be on the Oakland Symphony’s season-opening program with Brahms and Rachmaninoff?
A: To get the opening number at the start of the season is incredibly exciting. I called Oakland home for 12 years and will have so many friends who can come and experience this concert. It is also very important because of the relationship I have had with [conductor] Michael Morgan. For him to choose to play a new piece and to lead off the season with it—that’s just incredibly exciting.
The Oakland East Bay Symphony kicks off its 2015–2016 season on October 2 at the Paramount Theatre, oebs.org.
Three to See
Talk About Pop Music
01_ Wilson Phillips
The pop trio brings their ’90s hits (“Hold On”) and a sprinkling of ’60s songs from their parents (expect tunes from the Mamas and the Papas, and the Beach Boys) to San Ramon’s Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center. October 11, sanramonperformingarts.com.
02_ Florence + the Machine
The British indie rockers play a two-night run at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theatre. October 21–22, apeconcerts.com.
03_ Pink Martini
The hip compact orchestra performs its cocktail-hour classics at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater. December 7, livermoreperformingarts.org.
Where were you when The Who first rocked the East Bay? The legendary British band played the Berkeley Community Theatre in June 1970 on its Tommy tour. Fast-forward 45 years, and the band is still going strong.
This year’s The Who Hits 50! tour, which stops by Oakland’s Oracle Arena in May, features a set list packed with classics, including “My Generation,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and “Pinball Wizard.”
And fans of the band’s Tommy album take note: OMG, I Love That Show! Productions is reviving the stage musical based on the classic concept album in the Lesher Center’s 133-seat Knight Stage 3. The Who Hits 50!, May 19, 2016, coliseum.com. Tommy, through October 11, omgilovethatshow.com.
Behind the Scenes
Reopening the UC Theatre
The East Bay is about to get a new music venue in a very old building. The UC Theatre, a former cinema that opened in 1917, has undergone a multimillion-dollar transformation into a live music venue, with first shows planned for December.
The Taube Family Music Hall at the UC Theatre will focus on the types of cutting-edge acts that headline San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. The venue will also host comedy shows and a speaker series, and will partner with various nonprofits for special events. theuctheatre.org.
The singing and songwriting legend opens up.
Rosanne Cash is having the most prosperous artistic year of a life filled with music. The youngest daughter of music legend Johnny Cash has spent the past four decades creating her own legendary catalog of albums, the most recent being 2014’s The River & the Thread, which won three Grammy Awards (including Best Americana Album) in February. Cash will visit Livermore’s Bankhead Theater on October 15 with her collaborator, John Leventhal, to share music and stories from their album about the American South.
Q: We’re looking forward to seeing you here in October. How often do you visit the East Bay?
A: I’ll tell you, my favorite store in the world is in the East Bay. It’s in Berkeley, and it’s called Tail of the Yak: My friend Lauren McIntosh owns it. She is a beautiful artist, and she did all of the images for my album The List a few years back.
Q: The reaction to your new album has been remarkable. How has it been to receive such accolades and awards?
A: It is so exciting and gratifying. I have really been able to take it in and feel the approval and encouragement and love from the music industry.
Q: You are being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame this year. How does that rank among all the accolades?
A: At the very top. That was the award, or recognition, that I have always wanted because songwriting has always been my calling.
Q: How have audiences around the country received these songs about the South in concert?
A: Audiences respond very well to it everywhere. I think that connection to geography really resonated with people.
Q: The Southern theme reminds me of Tom Petty’s great album Southern Accents. Your dad covered the title song on one of his last albums.
A: Guess who gave him that song? I sent him Southern Accents and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, and he ended up recording songs from both albums.
Q: I read that you were at Sun Studio in Memphis as a little girl when your dad recorded his first songs: Do you have any memories of those sessions?
A: No, I was too small to remember that. But my best memory is of a more recent visit: I took my [then] 13-year-old son there and showed him the picture of his grandfather on the wall. My son took [Johnny Cash’s] guitar off the wall and strummed a few chords. It was like time traveling to see this young man who wasn’t that much younger than my dad was when he recorded those songs.
Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal play October 15 at the Bankhead Theater, livermoreperformingarts.org.