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Fall Bay Area Arts Preview

The best of fall’s dance, music, theater, and more around the Bay Area.


by Erik Tomasson

This fall brings a plethora of performing and visual arts to the Bay Area. With so much to see—cutting-edge dance, provocative theater, and music legends—we go district by district to highlight the shows you absolutely must see this fall.


Cal Shakes’ Othello // by Kevin Berne

Contra Costa County

Three to See: Stage

01. Othello
Cal Shakes wraps its season with a contemporary take on society’s fear of “the other” in Shakespeare’s military-themed tragedy. Through October 9, calshakes.org.

02. 1776
Contra Costa Musical Theatre sings and dances its way through election season, with this patriotic musical about the nation’s founding. October 7–November 5, ccmt.org.

03. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!
Town Hall Theatre Company revives this hysterical holiday classic about rambunctious siblings cast in a church play. December 3–17, townhalltheatre.com.


Baskerville: A Sherlock  Holmes Mystery  // by Kevin Berne

The Big Show

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
If you enjoyed the role-juggling of Center Rep’s The 39 Steps and the theatrical farce of Lend Me a Tenor, you’ll love director Michael Butler’s fresh offering that combines comedy, mystery, and instantaneous costume changes.

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery finds Lend Me a Tenor playwright Ken Ludwig skulking back to the fog-veiled moors to retell The Hound of the Baskervilles. He presents “a kind of postmodern, fun, hip approach,” Butler says. (Think Monty Python moving into the flat next to Holmes’ apartment on Baker Street.)

How will Butler cram in the comedy, retain the suspense, and include all the Arthur Conan Doyle characters? He’ll start with Sherlock Holmes (acclaimed actor Mark Anderson Phillips) and Dr. Watson, then have three actors—two men and a woman—play another 36 characters. They switch roles, literally, at the drop of a hat: Clothes come flying in from the wings.

“It’s high-speed and highly choreographed,” Butler says.

The show holds onto the Baskerville estate setting and the legend of the marauding “hound of hell.” But it doubles the appeal: more zany than an adapted classic, more mysterious than a typical spoof.

“The central device is constantly coming up with new ways of engaging the audience’s imagination, and that’s always been what makes theater great,” Butler says.

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery runs October 21–November 19 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, lesherartscenter.org. —Robert Taylor


Smuin Ballet’s The Christmas Ballet // by David Allen

Dance, Dance, Dance

Diablo Ballet (diabloballet.org) kicks off the holiday season with its annual A Swingin’ Holiday and More performance November 11–13 at the Del Valle Theatre in Walnut Creek. On November 18–19, Smuin Ballet (smuinballet.org) adds new steps to its annual The Christmas Ballet at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts. Also at the Lesher Center, Contra Costa Ballet (contracosta ballet.org) performs The Nutcracker November 25–27.


ReTooled: Highlights From the Hechinger Collection // courtesy of Joel Breger

Museum Must

Tell Dad to skip the trip to Home Depot, and head to Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek. The new exhibition, ReTooled: Highlights From the Hechinger Collection, looks at the world of tools via painting, sculpture, and photography. Featuring 28 nationally known artists—including Jim Dine, Red Grooms, and Jacob Lawrence—ReTooled has been curated from the collection of hardware-industry pioneer John Hechinger, who gathered more than 400 pieces over several decades. The Bedford show will include a section called “Blade Runner: ReTooling the Saw as Art,” featuring artists from the Bay Area who incorporate blades in their paintings and 3-D artwork. Through November 27, bedfordgallery.org.


Rita Moreno // Courtesy of Turner Broadcasting

See a Legend

Rita Moreno
California Symphony celebrates its 30th anniversary by inviting a legend—Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy winner Rita Moreno—to narrate Peter and the Wolf, as the symphony performs Prokofiev’s score. The concert will also include selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Bright Sky by
the symphony’s former composer-in-residence Kevin Beavers. December 20–21, californiasymphony.org.




The Head and the Heart // by James Minchin


Three to See: MUSIC

01. The Head and the Heart
These spacey Seattle folk-rockers are certain to dazzle at the Greek Theatre. October 8, apeconcerts.com.

02. Norah Jones
The beloved songwriter visits the Paramount Theatre to perform songs from her new LP, Day Breaks. Here’s hoping for a drop-in by her Foreverly collaborator, Oakland’s Billie Joe Armstrong. October 28, paramounttheatre.com.

03. Lukas Graham
The Danish pop band brings its hipster stylings to the gorgeous new UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall. November 13, theuctheatre.org.


It Can’t Happen Here // Courtesy of Berkeley Repertory Theatre

The Big Show

It Can’t Happen Here

Worried about unstable American politics and leaders usurping power from the people? Step back to the 1930s, when the stage version of Sinclair Lewis’ novel
It Can’t Happen Here jolted audiences with its dire prospect of a fascist takeover.

Variations on the theme have headlined this year’s political season, leading Berkeley Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Tony Taccone back to the political satire of Lewis’ novel for a new stage version written with Bennett S. Cohen.

“Every day when I wake up and read the headlines, there’s something that reflects the play,” Taccone says. Lewis wrote about Louisiana politician Huey Long, who planned to run for president in 1936 amid the specter of Hitler and Mussolini
in Europe.

“Lewis’ novel is a visionary piece of work,” Taccone says. “Some passages just scream out to us now. He sees the problem as systemic, the result of ignorance and fear. What democracy needs to have is an engaged citizenry. If it doesn’t, then it’s prone to collapse.”

The novel’s demagogue advances from his League of Forgotten Men to the presidential nomination at his party’s convention in Cleveland. But Taccone doesn’t want to reflect today’s headlines too closely: “The only way this can succeed is if it’s not about Donald Trump.”

It Can’t Happen Here runs September 23–November 6 at Berkeley Rep, berkeleyrep.org. —Robert Taylor


Mark Morris Dance Group and The Silk Road Ensemble’s Layla and Majnun // by David O’Connor

Dance, Dance, Dance

Cal Performances’ outstanding dance lineup at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall (calperformances.org) includes Layla and Majnun, the partnership between Mark Morris Dance Group and The Silk Road Ensemble (September 30–October 2), and Swedish troupe Cullberg Ballet’s innovative Figure a Sea (October 22–23). Meanwhile, Oakland Ballet Company (oaklandballet.org) performs The Nutcracker, accompanied by the Oakland Symphony and the Mt. Eden Women’s Choir, at the historic Paramount Theatre on December 17–18.


courtesy UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive/Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby

Museum Must

The new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive offers an inspiring look at a former slave with its exhibition Sojourner Truth, Photography, and the Fight Against Slavery. The exhibition examines Truth, a runaway slave who used her image, media, and copyright laws to support her work as an activist and abolitionist. UC Berkeley Professor Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, author of Enduring Truths: Sojourner’s Shadows and Substance, has donated a collection of original 19th century photographs to the museum. On October 7, Regina Mason, the great granddaughter of runaway slave and autobiographer William Grimes, will discuss her ancestor’s memoir, which was the first by an American fugitive slave. Through October 23, bampfa.org.






John Prine // by Jim Shea

See a Legend

John Prine

Folk icon John Prine, a recipient of the prestigious PEN Songwriting Award, visits the Bay Area for a show every December. This year, he’ll perform for the first time in Oakland’s Fox Theater. In addition to his set list of classics, including “Sam Stone” and “Paradise,” Prine will play some tunes from his new album, For Better, or Worse, which features duets with Miranda Lambert, Susan Tedeschi, and Alison Krauss. Bonus: The Fox recently installed a new sound system from East Bay–based Meyer Sound, so you can hear this living legend with a pristine presentation. December 16, johnprine.com.




One–Man Star Wars Trilogy // Courtesy of Charles Ross


Three to See: Stage

01 My Fair Lady
Lerner and Loewe’s musical take on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion comes to Pleasanton’s Firehouse
Arts Center. November 5–20, firehousearts.org.

02 One–Man Star Wars Trilogy
One month before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters, Canadian actor Charles Ross will boil the original trilogy into a hilarious 60-minute whirlwind of character impressions, sound effects, and symphonic music. November 11, lvpac.org.

03 Getting to Know . . . the Sound of Music
This kid-friendly version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic takes over the Amador Theater in Pleasanton. December 9–18, firehousearts.org.


In the Heights // by Joan Marcus

The Big Show

In the Heights

In the Heights isn’t a prequel to the Broadway blockbuster Hamilton. But it pointed the way for creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to bring a new sound, a new energy, and a new heart to tradition-bound stage musicals.

Miranda wrote the first version of In the Heights as a college sophomore, focusing on his Puerto Rican heritage, an array of neighbors in New York’s Washington Heights, and their hopes and dreams. His score was a knockout, and the show won four Tony awards when it moved to Broadway in 2008.

Now the salsa, hip-hop, and neighborhood bodega spring to life in the Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre production at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore.

“The writing and the style of In the Heights was definitely groundbreaking, introducing a new genre into musical theater,” says Christina Lazo, who’s directing for Tri-Valley Rep. “But it’s a much more personal story than Hamilton. It is about home and family, about holding on to a sense of self and culture.”

The show’s Musical Director, Sierra Dee, has been a part of two other Heights productions. “The music is really the life force for this show—it is truly the star. It sets the pace and creates an amazing world of energy onstage,” she says.

Tri-Valley Rep’s In the Heights runs October 22–November 6 at the Bankhead Theater, Livermore, trivalleyrep.org. —Robert Taylor


Marc Broussard // courtesy of Firehouse Arts Center

Cool Concerts

Blues guitarist Marc Broussard brings his swampy sound to Pleasanton’s Firehouse Arts Center (firehousearts.org) on October 14. Lady K and the Kings of Swing brings its jazzy sounds to San Ramon’s Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center (sanramon.ca.gov/parks/theater) on November 5. American Idol winner Taylor Hicks belts out his mix of country and soul in Livermore (lvpac.org) on December 2.


Courtesy of Eugene O’Neill Foundation

Museum Must

Danville’s Museum of the San Ramon Valley celebrates two centennials: the 100th anniversaries of the National Park Service and the production of legendary playwright Eugene O’Neill’s first play, Bound East for Cardiff. O’Neill, whose Danville Tao House is a National Historic Site, went on to win four Pulitzer Prizes and a Nobel Prize. Two Centennials: The National Park Service and Eugene O’Neill runs through November 15, museumsrv.org.


David Benoit  // by Lori Stoll

See a Legend

David Benoit

Jazz pianist and composer David Benoit brings holiday joy to the Tri-Valley, with his Christmas Tribute to Charlie Brown concert on December 19 at the Bankhead Theater. Benoit and guest vocalist Sara Gazarek will perform Vince Guaraldi’s beloved Peanuts music. December 19, benoit.com.


Danny Lyon/Courtesy of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

San Francisco

Three to See: Museums 

01. Art of Northern California: Three Views
The Bay Area’s arts scene of the 1960s and `70s is one element in this diverse look at NorCal artists at SFMOMA. Through January 2017, sfmoma.org.

02. Danny Lyon: Message to the Future
Street photographer Lyon’s retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art heads to the de Young museum. November 5–April 30, 2017, deyoung.famsf.org.

03. Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection
The Legion of Honor museum displays pins from the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the first female secretary of state. November 19–January 29, 2017, legionofhonor.famsf.org.


Hedwig and the Angry Inch // ANDREAS LASLO KONRATH; John Bigelow Taylor

The Big Show

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
It will be a double homecoming, with an extra twist, for Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre this fall.  

“When I found out that the tour would be kicking off in my hometown of San Francisco—the city where I was introduced to Hedwig—I could think of no better excuse to get back into the heels of a character I loved and missed so very much,” says Darren Criss.

In San Francisco, Criss first saw the 2001 movie version of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s gender-bending rock musical. Now, Criss stars in the city’s first full-scale production—and the start of a national tour—having played Hedwig on Broadway for 12 weeks last year. Criss is best known as Blaine Anderson on the hit TV musical Glee.

The other homecoming? Lena Hall, born and raised in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, won a Tony as featured actress for her performance as Yitzhak in the Hedwig revival. She’ll play Yitzhak again at the Golden Gate, but for one performance a week, she will take over for Criss and play Hedwig. “I will get a chance to begin my own journey as the glam rock heroine.”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre October 2–30, shnsf.com. —Robert Taylor


San Francisco Trolley Dances // Andy Mogg for Epiphany Productions

Dance, Dance, Dance

Watch performances on a tour through the city during the San Francisco Trolley Dances (epiphanydance.org) October 15–16. The San Francisco Dance Film Festival (sfdancefilmfest.org), which partners with Diablo Ballet to screen films at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, hosts its annual festival at the Brava Theater Center October 20–23. San Francisco Ballet (sfballet.org) performs its traditional Nutcracker at the War Memorial Opera House December 10–29.


Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition // Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

Museum Must

Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s unique body of work is the subject of Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (thecjm.org) on display through October 30. In addition to photographs taken by Kubrick for Look magazine in the 1940s, the exhibition offers artifacts of his unparalleled career as a director of such films as Paths of Glory, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining. The museum has partnered with various San Francisco venues to show Kubrick’s films—the highlight of which will be three showings of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with live accompaniment by the San Francisco Symphony orchestra (sfsymphony.org) October 13–15.



See a Legend

Tom Jones

Check your blind spot for flying panties when Tom Jones headlines the elegantly renovated The Masonic on October 11. The 76-year-old Welsh crooner—still gifted with a powerful set of pipes—belts out his 1960s classics (“It’s Not Unusual,” “What’s New Pussycat?”) in a show that also incorporates songs by a range of artists, including Prince, Leonard Cohen, and Gillian Welch. tomjones.com.

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