Arts Preview: What To Do this Fall from (Who Else?) the ‘Do List’ Hosts

Willem Dafoe (left) and Mikhail Baryshnikov in Robert Wilson production of Daniil Kharms' "The Old Woman," at Cal Presents

FAll arts preview 2014As co-hosts of The Do List – KQED’s weekly radio arts-calendar program — Cy Musiker and David Wiegand are masters at reading through reams of press releases, announcements and listings to find the Bay Area’s gold-star arts and entertainment events.

Each September, as theaters, arts organizations and artists of all kinds roll out their schedules of some of the year’s most important offerings, Cy and David each compile their own must-see lists. Below are the Do List hosts’ picks for fall’s top shows and events.



Audra McDonald will perform at Weill Hall
Audra McDonald will perform at Weill Hall

Weill Hall, Schroeder Hall, Green Music Center

Sept. 3, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park Information and tickets

Weill Hall and the Green Music Center have become a major Bay Area venue, as evidenced by this year’s offerings: Elvis Costello and the Imposters (Sept 3, Weill); the intriguing singer Storm Large, with her band, Le Bonheur (Oct. 5, Schroeder); San Francisco Symphony (Oct. 16, Weill); Laurie Anderson (Oct. 25, Weill) and the great Audra McDonald (Dec. 5, Weill) are just part of the rich mix of pop, jazz, classical and country music you’ll find in the North Bay.

The cast of "Pippin"
The cast of Pippin


Sept. 23 to Oct. 19, Golden Gate Theatre, San Francisco Information and Tickets

Stephen Schwartz’s endearingly weird musical about Charles the X won some Tonys when it premiered on Broadway with a cast that included Jill Clayburgh, Ben Vereen and Irene “Granny Clampett” Ryan. It is a true charmer by the composer of Wicked and was long overdue for the Broadway revival of last year, which settles in for almost a month at the Golden Gate. Grab your own “Little Corner of the Sky” and get your ticket now.

Photo, Amber Star Merkens
Photo, Amber Star Merkens

Mark Morris Dance Group and Music Ensemble

Sept. 25-28, Cal Performances, UC Berkeley Information and tickets

The Bay Area is Mark Morris’ home away from home, but it’s rare for him to bring his company here with two mixed rep programs. In addition, only one of the dances has been seen before in our neck of the woods, his wonderfully loopy take on The Rite of Spring, Spring, Spring, Spring, with Stravinsky’s music reconceived by jazz trio The Bad Plus. Morris remains one of the most vital forces in dance, as both a modernist and an adoring classicist.

Sam Smith
Sam Smith

Sam Smith

Sept. 28, Fox Theatre, Oakland

Yes, it’s sold out, but if you can snag a ticket, take out a second mortgage to pay for it. Or at least download his CD. His appearance on Saturday Night Live this year confirmed he is one of the most gifted, original talents in pop music in quite some time. His other-worldly vocals combined with the heartbreaking lyricism of his songwriting make Smith the voice of the year. Any year, for that matter.

Black Francis of The Pixies
The Pixies’ Black Francis

The Pixies

Sept. 30, Masonic Auditorium, San Francisco Information and tickets

Talk about Boston strong — the Pixies have been going strong since 1986 (despite a hiatus from 1993-2004). Bassist Kim Deal is no longer with the band, but Black Francis is and they still put on one of the best live shows you’ll ever attend. You can also check out the newly revamped Masonic, which now becomes a major venue in the Bay Area pop music scene.

Lucinda Williams
Lucinda Williams will play Hardly Strictly

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2014

Oct. 3-5, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco Information

The late Warren Hellman’s greatest gift to the city he loved remains the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which is not only a jaw-dropping showcase for great music — not to mention free of charge — but remains the best-organized annual outdoor concert in San Francisco. The 14th edition of the festival includes Lucinda Williams, Ralph Stanley, Ryan Adams, Yo La Tengo, Cibo Matto, X, Chris Isaak and, of course, the silver-haired, golden-voiced Emmylou Harris.

Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982

Keith Haring, The Political Line

Nov. 8 to Feb. 16, De Young Museum, San Francisco Information and tickets

Although Keith Haring rose to prominence in the 1980s and died in 1990, to view his art only in historical context is to miss its timeless value. Haring, who brought street art into galleries and public consciousness in an unprecedented way, endures. The show at the de Young marks the first major exhibit of Haring’s work on the West Coast in 20 years. The 130 paintings, sculptures and drawings it comprises tell us not only how much we’ve evolved over the last 30 years, but how relevant his sensibility remains to our lives today.

Photo courtesy Cal Performances
Photo courtesy Cal Performances

Benjamin Britten, Curlew River

Nov. 14 and 15, Barbican Centre and Cal Performances, UC Berkeley Information and tickets

The centennial of Benjamin Britten’s birth in 2013 reminded us of his artistic greatness — and that there is so much more to him than the War Requiem and Peter Grimes. Britten wrote Curlew River as a so-called “church parable” after he traveled to Japan with singer (and life partner) Peter Pears and witnessed Noh theatre. This Cal Performances co-production with the Barbican Theatre is the first major Bay Area production of the brilliantly disturbing work since Chantlicleer staged it at Theatre Artaud in 1995. British tenor Ian Bostridge will play the lead role of the Madwoman, created for Pears.

Poster for <i>Promises, Promises</i>
Poster for Promises, Promises

Promises, Promises

Nov. 18 to Jan. 10, SF Playhouse, San Francisco Information and tickets

The 1968 musical represented a kind of bookend with another show of its era, Hair. In their way, both shows represented attempts by Broadway to become more with it, as we said in the day. Hair got naked, Promises, Promises got Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who created the music for a stage treatment of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. You know the title song; other hits from the show were “I Say a Little Prayer,” “A House Is Not a Home” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” How groovy for SF Playhouse to revive this Mad Men-era benchmark.

Photo Courtesy Cal Performances
Photo Courtesy Cal Performances

The Old Woman

Nov. 21-23, Cal Performances, UC Berkeley Information and tickets

Put legendary avant-garde director Robert Wilson together with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe and you’re not in for a revival of Charley’s Aunt. Wilson oversees the production of Russian poet Daniil Kharms’ take on a surreal, disorienting world invaded by an unwanted houseguest. The producers bill it as a black comedy with envelope-pushing elements of vaudeville and abstract storytelling.


Photo by David Allen
Photo by David Allen

Rapture, Blister, Burn

Aug. 29 to Sept. 28, Aurora Theatre, San Francisco Information and tickets

Gina Gionfriddo wrote the sexually provocative and funny-as-hell Pulitzer Prize nominee Becky Shaw, which got a terrific mounting at San Francisco Playhouse a few years ago. In Rapture, Blister, Burn (a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer), she offers theme and variations on modern feminism, the role of a wife and mother and what director Desdemona Chiang calls the stigma of spinsterhood. Chiang praises Gionfriddo’s writing as “effortless dialogue” – and she’s funny.

Michael Tilson Thomas with the SF Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas with the SF Symphony

MTT’s 20th Year with San Francisco Symphony

Season opens Sept. 3, Davies Hall, San Francisco Information and tickets

San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, who turns 70 in December, has led the company since 1995, and it’s been an exciting and enlightening time. He’s brought contemporary works to Davies Hall on a regular basis, still a rare thing for mainstream orchestras, and produced Grammy winning recordings of Mahler. And MTT somehow managed to avoid any taint from the bitter labor strife of last spring. MTT has programmed lots of Beethoven this season, but also a John Adams commission. And the SFS will record Mason Bates’ Alternative Energy during live performances Sept. 9 to 13. The colossal piece for orchestra and sampled sound was fabulous when the Chicago Symphony performed it here in 2012.

Robert Frank.  "Detroit, 1955"
Robert Frank. “Detroit, 1955″

The Anderson Collection and Robert Frank

Robert Frank in America, Sept. 10 to Jan. 5 Information
Anderson Collection opening day, Sept. 21 Information and tickets

On Sept. 21, Stanford University opens a new museum devoted to the Anderson Collection, a jaw-droppingly fine selection of contemporary art by the likes of Rothko, Diebenkorn, de Kooning, Mitchell and Pollock, donated to the school by its Palo Alto neighbors Harry and Mary Anderson. Then go next door to the Cantor for the photo exhibit Robert Frank in America. The photographs, largely drawn from the Cantor’s own permanent collection, form a vital addendum to Frank’s seminal 1959 photo essay, The Americans. That book’s honest recording of American faces and scenes threw a shadow on the idea that America was a land of suburban bliss. Stanford is offering timed tickets for the Anderson collection, to avoid crowds, but admission to the new museum and the Cantor is, as always, free.

Joshua Redman. Photo, Richard Conde
Joshua Redman. Photo, Richard Conde

SFJAZZ Season 3

Sept. 11, SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco Information and tickets

Season 3 at the center offers some shows that should dazzle: the thoughtful saxophonist Joshua Redman, a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective, brings his trio to play Oct. 2-5; tabla master Zakir Hussain reunites with Charles Lloyd and Eric Harland Oct 9-12; and Ravi Coltrane and a handpicked ensemble do a tribute to Coltrane senior’s seminal A Love Supreme. Wow.

Brandy Clark. Photo Becky Fluke
Brandy Clark. Photo Becky Fluke

Jennifer Nettles with Brandy Clark

Sept. 11, Wells Fargo Center, Santa Rosa Information and tickets

No one puts stories to country music better than Brandy Clark. Every song on her debut album last year, 12 Stories, was a winner, full of humor and heartache. She’s touring in support of country star Jennifer Nettles, for whom Clark wrote a number about an abusive husband called “His Hands.” It should be a great show and a chance to support the stirrings of a feminist wave in country music.

Patricia Lockwood
Patricia Lockwood (Courtesy of Twitter)

Patricia Lockwood

Sept. 22, Jewish Community Center, San Francisco Information and tickets

Lockwood has become famous for “Rape Joke,” a not-at-all funny poem that reads like a series of brilliant and disturbing tweets exploring the often twisted relations between a rapist and his victim. Her most recent book of poems, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, is full of odd and sexually explicit ideas that include a deer that does porn, a talking basketball and the Loch Ness Monster. A literary event that’s likely to sell out — for a poet who’s anything but.

Ai Weiwei in the elevator when taken into custody by the police, Sichuan, China, 2009; Courtesy the artist
Ai Weiwei in the elevator when taken into custody by the police, Sichuan, China, 2009; Courtesy the artist

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

Sept. 27 to April 26, Alcatraz Island Information and tickets

Beijing’s Ai Weiwei is one of the world’s foremost artists and human-rights activists. The Chinese government once jailed him for 81 days and currently limits his travel. Now he’s overseeing a set of art installations on the meaning of confinement and political speech in what was once America’s most formidable military and federal prison. Kudos to San Francisco’s For-Site Foundation for commissioning the work, (Ai is taking no fee), and to the administrators at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for giving Ai artistic freedom. Getting to Alcatraz will be half the fun and half the battle. Admission will be free, but you’ll have to ride the heavily booked Alcatraz Ferry to the island (adults $38.00). Best to reserve a full 90 days in advance (the furthest ahead you can book).

Photo, Mark Leialoha
Photo, Mark Leialoha

The Bengsons

Sept. 29, Freight and Salvage, Berkeley Information and tickets

Shaun and Abigail Bengson have carved out a unique niche that combines experimental, folk-alt-art-rock and musical theatre. Their Hundred Days at Z Space early this year tenderly wedded lush folk-rock with a gender-reversed take on La Boheme. Brilliant.

Photo,  Eric Cheng
Photo, Eric Cheng

St Lawrence String Quartet

Starting Oct. 10, Various locations Information and tickets

Stanford’s resident St. Lawrence String Quartet is one of the best in the world. This fall the group, led by the charming Geoff Nuttall, is continuing the celebration of its 25th anniversary with a series of concerts at Stanford and around the Bay, including new work written for the quartet by Berkeley’s John Adams and Stanford composers Jonathan Berger and Jaroslaw Kapuscinski. Local concerts begin Oct. 19 with one at Bing Hall, and another Nov. 23 at UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall.

Party People; photo: Jenny Graham
Party People; photo: Jenny Graham

Party People

Oct. 17 to Nov. 16, Berkeley Rep, Berkeley Information and tickets

The NYC troupe Universes debuted this show about the Black Panthers and the Young Lords at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2012. It’s based on interviews with leaders and rank-and-file members of the two radical groups. The formidable Liesl Tommy, Berkeley Rep’s assistant artistic director, is directing as she did in 2012, and she says she’s helping Universes polish the script for an audience that will include some who know the Panthers’ story firsthand. And it’s a musical, filled with jazz, blues, hip-hop, boleros and salsa. A great prelude for the 50th anniversary (1966) of the founding of the Black Panthers in Oakland.

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