Taylor Mac: Nothing’s new, everything’s different, & everyone’s a Yankee Doodle Dandy

Taylor Mac at the Curran.

Taylor Mac at the Curran.

In a city where just about everything seems to be changing, a few things remain the same in San Francisco and one of them is the relative ease with which one can find a drag queen on a stage singing old songs to a sympathetic audience. And while on one level that’s a perfectly accurate description of Taylor Mac‘s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, leaving it at that would be grossly inaccurate. It’s important to draw the connection from the expansive and flamboyant extravagance of Mac’s show to its less ambitious relations that still take place at Aunt Charlie’s and Mother (formerly known as Trannyshack) since they share a purpose and origin in providing a place of expression and community within LGBT culture. As Mac’s stature and visibility continues to grow (and it will) and his shows attract increasing numbers of audience members from “outside” (already the case based on what I observed at his show’s opening night at the Curran), I wonder how many of them will know, or  care about, the culture from which it arose.

And yet I think being unaware of it is to miss something essential about what Mac’s doing. Thirty years ago Mac was a queer teenager living in Stockton who had never met an out homosexual until he came to San Francisco for the 1986 AIDS walk. The experience (discussed at length in this interview with Kevin Sessums) changed his life and planted the seed for this staggeringly unique and powerful portrait of American cultural, social, sexual, and political history. In A 24-Decade History Mac examines these subjects firmly within an LGBT frame, but a big part of the show’s brilliance is in how it transcends those perspectives and becomes equally queer and American, as if the two identities have always been, if not synonymous, somehow inextricably linked by their common differences from, for lack of a better word, the norm.

Percolating somewhere in all of this is a discussion about the mainstreaming of LGBT culture, and Mac’s pulling that conversation in multiple directions at once. A 24-Decade History is “radical faerie” performance art, and a celebration of queerness, but it’s also solid theater, and solid musical theater. The boundaries and boxes exist, are claimed, identified, and indulged in, then dismissed as if to say “why not?” And the result completely works, as if any other outcome were inconceivable, and by sheer volition the act of creating a communal, shared experience can eliminate all walls, preconceptions, and prejudices.

Mac makes some of the connections explicit, others not so much. The tawdry, gloriously elaborate costumes made of seemingly cast-off detritus, the assisting “Dandy Minions,” the audience participation, the digressions into Mac’s own personal history, and the espousing of political and social views all hearken back to familiar drag themes and tropes. However, the theatrical setting, the large band, and most importantly the ambition and audacity of Mac’s endeavor is unique, extending far beyond drag’s norms. It challenges, yet entertains with a level of artistry existing outside of its raison d’être, and maybe even overshadowing it, though that would probably take some deliberate effort. On top of that, judy (Mac’s preferred gender pronoun, rendered in lowercase) sings very well, is quite funny, and possesses a lethal level of charm.

The night I attended featured Act 1, covering the years 1776 – 1806. Musically, the songs have a surprising relevance in music director/pianist Matt Ray’s exceptional arrangements, revealing Mac as an expert curator. Of the twenty-five performed, the majority were unfamiliar to me, but a friend who also attended who grew up on the other side of the country knew nearly all of them. judy also assembled a crack band nine-piece centered around drummer Bernice “Boom Boom” Brooks, guitarist Viva De Concini, and bassist Aidan O’Donnell, with additional brass and strings not credited in the program (it was a surprise to see El Beh playing the cello). I was warily expecting fifes, snare drums, and recorders, but instead Ray and the band delivered tight arrangements, some with a danceable beat (“Yankee Doodle”), others solidly recreated as American jazz standards or musical theater songs, all memorably delivered despite the show’s three-hour length and lack of intermissions.

The shows at the Curran’s Under Construction series last month were a kind of warm-up/training session for a 24-hour marathon performance planned for this coming fall in New York in which each hour is dedicated to the music of a decade, beginning in 1776 and ending in 2016. The marathon will begin with 24 musicians on the stage, and as each decade passes, one musician departs along with it: the initially large ensemble will dwindle, ticking off one member at a time in a steady stream until the final hour leaves Mac alone on the stage, singing his own songs.

No breaks, no intermissions, but with a costume change every hour. Sure, it will be an extreme endurance test for all involved, and that’s part of the design. But if what I experienced is any indication of what’s to come, it will also be glorious and moving, and perhaps unlike anything anyone’s ever seen. Prior to the marathon, shorter versions comprised of individual acts (3 to 12 hours in length) will continue to appear as Mac prepares for the main event– don’t miss the opportunity to attend one it if you have the chance.


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The week ahead: February 8 – 14

The Bride of Frankenstein screens at YBCA this weekend.

Be my Valentine? The Bride of Frankenstein screens at YBCA this weekend.

The local arts organizations aren’t doing much to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, but YBCA, the Castro, SF Indie Fest, and The Chapel have you covered on that score if you’re in the mood for something specific to mark the occasion. Tweaking the format a bit again, you’ll find everything listed day-by-day, except for theater listings, which appear afterward. Generally, the best bet for the day comes first, but there isn’t anything on the list I wouldn’t check out myself, except for a couple of the Valentine events. Be sure to check the list of half-price tickets at the bottom of the post. ♦ = strongly recommended.


Monday:

Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert

Classical at the Freight presents “Schubertiade,” an evening of music by Franz Schubert, including the “Trout” Quintet and an early string trio. Featuring Kay Stern, concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, pianist Frank Levy and a team of San Francisco Chamber Orchestra musicians including Robert Howard, Michel Taddei, and Ben Simon.

Two different programs of Oscar-nominated shorts screen at the Roxie (also Tuesday).

I don’t have children so I don’t know why they might be out of school this week, but if yours are, the San Francisco Symphony has a series of concerts designed for 4th – 9th graders this Monday – Wednesday mornings this week and the tickets are only $5.


Tuesday:

The Del Sol String Quartet. Photo by Matthew-Washburn

The Del Sol String Quartet. Photo by Matthew-Washburn

Del Sol String Quartet continues their Soundings series at the Center for New Music with Ben Johnston’s mictrotonal String Quartet no. 10, paired with the work of Jan Wurm, “a California artist who examines daily life and close encounters through her paintings, drawings and artists’ books.”

♦ West Edge Opera presents the first of two programs in their “Doppelgänger” series, a concert version of the other version of The Barber of Seville, this one by composer Giovanni Paisiello. Written in 1782, it precedes Rossini’s more famous version by 34 years. With Sara Duchovnay, Jonathan Smucker, Nikolas Nackley and Carl King. Jonathan Khuner conducts from the piano at Freight & Salvage.

New Orleans’ Zigaboo Modeliste and the New Aahkesstra are the The Chapel, with MJ’s Brass Boppers.

SFJazz presents Aaron Neville at the Herbst Theater.


Wednesday:

Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot

World renowned Russian feminist protest art collective Pussy Riot talks with writer Zarina Zabrisky at the Warfield. No word about a performance.

The John Brothers Piano Company is at the Chapel.

The first annual Fog City Magic Fest gets underway at the Exit Theatre, featuring 7 different shows curated by Jay Alexander and Christian Cagigal. Taking place over four nights (Wednesday – Saturday), the festival includes mentalist David Gerard, “who’s been blowing minds from London to Hollywood’s Magic Castle”; Chinese-American magician Jade, who’s been on Penn and Teller’s show Fool Us; and the Bay Area’s own family magician Brian Scott. See the entire line-up here.

Cal Performances brings Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet and former CEO of Google to U.C. Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall for a discussion about his “experiences in academia and industry, as well as what it takes to reach the top of the tech world while continuing to re-invent and innovate.” Free, but tickets required.

The Balboa has a night of Les Blank films, including Garlic is as Good as 10 MothersYum Yum Yum, and Always for Pleasure, presented by the Super Shangri-La Show.


Thursday:

Igor Levit

Igor Levit

♦ No pianist on the classical music scene is getting more buzz right now than Igor Levit. San Francisco Performance presents his local recital debut at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with a program of Bach, Schubert, Prokofiev, and Beethoven.

♦ Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham joins the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to celebrate Music Director Nicholas McGegan’s 30th anniversary with the orchestra in an all-Handel program featuring arias from Ariodante and Alcina, plus Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. At Herbst Theater, with an after party at City Hall (requiring a separate ticket).

Pinchas Zukerman leads the San Francisco Symphony in Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, as well as performs as soloist in the latter’s “Haffner” serenades (also Sunday).

The amazing Dianne Reeves is at SFJazz’s Miner Auditorium (through Sunday).

The Loston Harris Trio is at SFJazz’s Joe Henderson Lab (through Sunday).

The Tuesday & Wednesday shows sold out, but there are still tickets for The Knocks at The Independent on Thursday.

♦ SF Indie Fest, two weeks of independent films from around the globe, begins at theaters across San Francisco.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca screens at YBCA, part of their Gothic Cinema Festival (also Sunday).

How Green Was My Valley, winner of the Oscar for Best Picture in 1941, screens at the Balboa.


Friday:

Yellow Towel-Maxyme-G.-Delisle-1536x1024

Dana Michel’s Yellow Towel.

In Yellow Towel, Dana Michel looks at black culture stereotypes via an imaginary world where her alter-ego can exist free of cover-ups or censorship. A Co-Presentation by Jess Curtis/Gravity and CounterPulse at Dance Mission (also Friday).

Shotgun Players’ month-long Blast Festival, dedicated to subculture performance groups and artists, gets underway with Portland-based Hand2Mouth’s My Mind is Like an Open Meadow, which uses a mixture of lighting, pre-recorded voice, music, dance and scenery to explore a woman’s relationship with her dynamic grandmother (also Saturday). There are a lot of intriguing shows on the schedule, including a return of Mark Jackson & Megan Trout’s Now for Now. You may want to consider purchasing a 3-pack or 5-pack bundle of tickets.

San Francisco Performances presents the Pacifica Quartet performing music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Pulitzer Prize winner Shulamit Ran’s acclaimed third string quartet. At Herbst.

Joshua Gersen conducts the San Francisco Symphony performing Bernard Hermann’s score in a live accompaniment to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo at Davies Symphony Hall (also Saturday). An added bonus includes Kim Novak in conversation with SF arts journalist Steve Winn an hour before the show.

Locally based Funk/soul/r&b sensation Con Brio is at the Independent.

Circus Center Cabaret presents a Valentine-themed called Through With Love at the location at 755 Frederick St. in San Francisco (also Saturday).


Saturday:

Phil Niblock. Photo: Katherine Liberovskaya.

Phil Niblock. Photo: Katherine Liberovskaya.

Phil Niblock, minimalist composer, multi-media musician, and director of the Experimental Intermedia Foundation, creates musical drones and screens footage from his b “Movement of People Working” series at The Lab.

The Bride of Frankenstein screens at YBCA as part of their Gothic Cinema Festival (also Sunday).

A double-feature of Barry Lyndon and The Last of the Mohicans is at the Castro.

The 13th annual Big Lebowski Party takes place at the Brava (part of SF Indie Fest)

There’s been some confusion around Merle Haggard’s tour because of the legend’s health, but as of today it’s confirmed will be performing at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, courtesy of SFJazz.

♦ Dave and Phil Alvin are at Freight & Salvage (sold-out, but standing room tickets will be available once the show starts).


Sunday:

eighth blackbird

eighth blackbird

♦ Cal Performances presents the Chicago-based, Grammy-winning new music ensemble eighth blackbird’s Hand Eye, a new evening-length work of contemporary music by composers Ted Hearne, Timo Andres, Christopher Cerrone, Robert Honstein, Jacob Cooper, and Andrew Norman, whom collectively are also know as the New York composing collective Sleeping Giant. At U.C. Berkeley’s Hertz Hall.

♦ The Szymanowski Quartet opens Chamber Music San Francisco‘s season with music by Szymanowski, Szamotuly, Weber, and Beethoven.

A double-feature of Casablanca and Notorious screen at the Castro.

Sophie B. Hawkins is doing a special Valentine’s Day show at The Chapel.

The Anti-Valentine’s Day Power Ballad Sing-a-long Show takes place at the Roxie (part of SF Indie Fest).


Theater listings:

Aubergine opens in previews this week at Berkeley Rep. Julia Cho’s meditation on family and forgiveness was commissioned by the company, Tony Taccone directs a cast that includes Safiya Fredericks and Tyrone Mitchell Henderson. Opening night is Friday.

San Francisco’s African-American Shakespeare Company’s first play of 2016 will be George C. Wolfe’s  The Colored Museuma depiction of black culture in America that promises “in-your-face non-apologetic, take no prisoners”satire that electrifies, unsettles, and delights audiences of all colors.” With Velina Brown, L. Peter Callender, Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, and Michael Gene Sullivan. Saturdays and Sundays through March 6, with a preview on Friday, February 12. At the Buriel Clay Theatre, 762 Fulton Street in San Francisco.

Selkie, a new play by Sarah Shaefer about “an immortal being stripped of her memory and magic, wasting away as a result of her estrangement from the ocean,” is in previews this week at ZSpace. Directed by Daniel Talbott. Opening night is Saturday.

Sam and Dede, or My Dinner with Andre the Giant opens at Custom Made on February 11. It’s a true story. Opening night is Saturday.

Red Light Winter, Adam Rapp’s Pulitzer finalist from 2006 about a love triangle that begins in Amsterdam and ends up year a later in New York, begins Friday at the Exit and runs Thursday through Saturday until March 5th.

Pas de Quatre, Margery Fairchild’s poetic, experimental, dance-filled work riffs on the titular choreography while exploring the stories and cultural forces behind this epoch-making dance. With a cast featuring both dancers and actors, the show seeks to unite drama and dance in novel ways, just as the ballet has always done. Opens February 11 at the Exit.

  The Nether, Jennifer Haley’s very dark thriller about the online world of the future at SF Playhouse.

Gem of the Ocean, a moving production of the first of August Wilson’s ten plays looking at a century of the African-American experience at Marin Theatre Company (final week, reviewed here).

Little Erik at the Aurora, a contemporary version of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf.

The Unfortunates, a new musical based on the blues opens a long run at A.C.T.’s Strand.

Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn’s cultural look at the Philippines at the end of the Marcos era, at the Magic.

Jersey Boys at the Orpheum (final week).

Sagittarius Ponderosa, MJ Kaufman’s family drama with a touch of magical realism and a trans leading character at New Conservatory Theatre.

Ondine, Katharine Sherman’s update on the classic mermaid myth directed by Cutting Ball Theatre’s Rob Melrose is at the Exit on Taylor through March 6.


Half-price tickets to shows this week:

Available through Goldstar, and completely legit — you can log-in using your Facebook account or create a new one. They won’t abuse your information, but you will save some money and help support this site since I get a (very) small piece of the action.

Circus Center Cabaret

Fog City Magic Fest shows

Pussy Riot

Jersey Boys

Gem of the Ocean

Sagittarius Ponderosa

The Nether

Dogeaters

The Unfortunates at A.C.T.’s Strand

Pas de Quatre

Sam and Dede, or My Dinner with Andre the Giant


Half-price tickets to shows coming up:

Alvin Ailey at Cal Performances

San Francisco Ballet’s Coppélia

♦Chitresh Dance at Cal Performances

♦San Francisco Symphony: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Bruckner’s 3rd, Maria Joao Pires plays Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto

San Francisco Symphony: Stéphane Denève conducts Prokofiev and Nielsen’s Violin Concerto featuring acclaimed violinist Nikolaj Znaider

The Realistic Joneses at A.C.T.

Swimmers at Marin Theatre Company

The Little Mermaid at Marin Theatre Company

The Petrified Forest

Hair at the Victoria

Voices of Music: The Art of the Countertenor

Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddygore at YBCA


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Enter The Nether

Woodnut (Josh Schell) and Iris (Carmen Steele) in the Hideaway. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

Woodnut (Josh Schell) and Iris (Carmen Steele) in the Hideaway. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

Close your eyes.

Now think of all the bad things you’d like to do if you could only get away with them.

What if I told you there’s an app for that?

Something without the risks of creating an Ashley Madison account or the potential embarrassment of having your dinner guests discover your first-person shooter games hidden under the stack of New Yorkers piled on the bookshelf. Something that allows you to indulge your basest desires by simply logging on and signing in. Anonymously of course, and no one will ever know where you went and what you did while you were there. It’s not hard to imagine, and it’s probably not far off.

That not-too-distant future is the setting of Jennifer Haley’s play The Nether, where what was formerly known as the internet has become an unregulated online world of virtual realities, alternate identities, and the go-to place for anonymous, illicit, and illegal pleasures. Its allure is so strong, and addicting, that some people choose to forgo living in the corporeal world altogether, opting out of it to become “shades”: living bodies plugged into The Nether and tuned out to everything taking place outside of it. It’s a place where people go to do very bad things, where no real-life people get hurt. At least not directly.

Hopefully this idea is making your skin crawl just a little bit, not getting you aroused. But there are definitely people who would find this world well-suited to their desires, either by choice or compulsion, people whose ideal life would find them living as a Humbert Humbert in a non-judgmental society that looks like a conflation of Videodrome and Eyes Wide Shut, rebooted with a script by Jack Ketchum. You could know of one these people and never be the wiser. If Eliot Spitzer had access to The Nether he would probably be running for the presidency right now, and well on his way to winning it.

The Netherwhich is now onstage at San Francisco Playhouse, alternates between two settings: the first is a windowless interrogation room where an agent named Morris (Ruibo Qian) is trying to extract information about a place in the Nether called the Hideaway from a man named Sims (Warren David Keith), whom Morris suspects is behind the operation. Morris has also found a way to identify one of the Hideaway’s habitués, a man named Doyle (Louis Parnell) whom she’s also hauled in for questioning. The only leverage Morris has with Sims is to cut off his access, which he’s not much concerned about. The less-powerful Doyle, a family man, has much more to lose if exposed. At first, Morris comes off as a kind of moral enforcer, but in time Haley reveals the agent has some skin in this particular game.

Shifting identities and and cleverly masked intentions keep the audience guessing about what’s really going on within the Hideaway well after the play reveals exactly what kind of horrible things take place inside of its appealing interior (the set design by Nina Ball is among the best work I’ve seen on a local stage). I’ve given you fair enough warning, so I’m not going to say more about what happens in the Hideaway except to say there are some genuinely uncomfortable moments that push up against the boundaries of what most theater goers would expect. I saw the play on opening night with an audience filled with critics and well-wishers, and I suspect that was the reason there were no walkouts, but it wouldn’t have surprised me at all if someone had gotten up and left.

A good portion of that discomfort comes from the astonishing performance of sixth-grader Carmen Steele as Iris , the forever-young bait who lures men to the Hideaway (eighth-grader Matilda Holtz alternates in the role). Steele is riveting, balancing Iris perfectly on a thin line between innocence and complicity with unnerving steadiness during her scenes with Woodnut (Josh Schell), a Hideaway visitor whose initial reluctance to yield to everything on offer eventually gives way to Iris’s gentle invitations.

Directed by Bill English with taut precision, The Nether begins like a police procedural and morphs into an expertly paced thriller with each member of the cast hitting exactly the right tone to create a certain moral ambiguity about what’s right and wrong with this world. It’s very dark, but it will stay with you, and this powerful production will leave you with a lot to think about it after it’s over. See it.

The Nether runs through March 5th at San Francisco Playhouse. Buy tickets here.


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The week ahead: February 1 – 7

The Kronos Quartet

The Kronos Quartet

It could be due to the Super Bowl, or maybe it’s just an unusual lull in the calendar, but this is a relatively light week on the performance calendar. The 2nd annual Kronos Quartet Festival at the SFJazz Center, a four day extravaganza of new music from across the globe, is the week’s big event. Things pick up again next week, so now’s a good time to catch up on some of the excellent plays currently on stages around the Bay Area. Below are this week’s daily best bets for what to see and hear, followed by the listings for classical, music, theater, dance, film, opera and more. Be sure to check the list of half-price tickets at the bottom of the post. ♦ = strongly recommended. Also, if you’re willing to brave the crowds and long lines to get in, check out these free events from the Super Bowl.

Monday:

Daniel PollackPianist Daniel Pollack plays works by Chopin, Liszt, Menotti, and Prokofiev at Temple Emanu-El’s Meyer Auditorium.


Tuesday:

Drugs in the TLDrugs in the Tenderloin, Robert Zagone’s 1966 documentary looks at the gritty neighborhood’s queer and drug cultures.


Wednesday:

ghost-world-scarlett-johanssen-1024x682The new Alamo Drafthouse screens one of the best films of 2001, Ghost World, followed by a conversation between author/TV host Illeanna Douglas and filmmaker Terry Zwigoff.


Thursday:

leah-crocetto-desdemona-eno-otello-1500x844Soprano Leah Crocetto sits down with Kevin Sessums on stage of the Curran to talk about her career, the opera world, and sing a few songs.


Friday:

NetherThe Nether takes a very dark look at the future of life online and the most repugnant corners of the virtual world, and if San Francisco Playhouse’s taut production wasn’t so well-performed and smartly staged, it could make for seriously uncomfortable viewing. It still might make some audience members squirm, but director Bill English and the solid cast have turned Jennifer Haley’s script into a play you won’t forget any time soon.


Saturday:

Strangers Become FlowersStrangers Become Flowers, a new evening-length dance by choreographer Randee Paufve, explores ideas about the kindness of strangers.


Sunday:

MonicasCellist Monica Scott and pianist Hadley McCarroll (aka martha & monica) perform Morton Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field at Z Below.


Also on the calendar this week:

Classical Music

Monday: ♦ The contemporary music ensemble Earplay performs its first concert of its season at Herbst. On the program are works by Stefan Wolpe, Shulamit Ran, Eric Sawyer, and Andrew Imbrie.

Monday: The Salome Chamber Orchestra performs a free concert at Grace Cathedral. No information is available about the program.

Thursday: The Berkeley Symphony performs Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra and Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with pianist Conrad Tao.

Thursday – Sunday: ♦ Kronos Quartet takes over the SFJazz Center for a four-night festival featuring seven concerts with new works and premieres by contemporary composers, including Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, Sahba Aminikia, Donnacha Dennehy, Nicole Lizée, Karin Rehnqvist, and Aleksandra Vrebalov. Guest artists performing with Kronos include features guest performers Wu Man, David Coulter, Fodé Lassana Diabaté, Ritva Koistinen, Abbos Kosimov,Salar Nader, Mariana Sadovska, Homayun Sakhi, and Vân-Ánh Võ. The San Francisco Girls Chorus and musicians fromRuth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts will also be participating.

Thursday – Sunday: Violinist Daniel Hope steps in as Guest Concertmaster of the New Century Chamber Orchestra in program including the music of Bach, Glass, Bartok, Pärt, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn in tribute to violin master Yehudi Menuhin at various venues around the Bay Area.

Friday – Saturday: Masaaki Suzuki makes his local debut on the podium conducting the San Francisco Symphony in a program of Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Haydn, and Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto featuring the orchestra’s own Stephen Paulson.

Friday: The New Keys piano ensemble performs cutting edge rep at the Presidio Officer’s Club.

Saturday: The San Francisco Symphony performs a family concert with selections from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, and Brahms’ Second Symphony. Exhibits from the Exploratorium will be at the event.

Saturday – Sunday: martha & monica – out of the box. Cellist Monica Scott and pianist Hadley McCarroll perform three different, eclectic and challenging concerts this weekend at Z Below. All of the programs are of interest, but if I had to pick one it would be the Sunday afternoon concert featuring Morton Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field because when will you ever get the chance to hear that performed again any time soon?

Music

Wednesday: Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio brings his electronic obsessions with Don Delillo and rock icons like Bowie and Bryan Ferry to the Independent.

Friday: Drummer/vocalist Glen Velez at CIIS.

Friday: Fred Frith & Darren Johnston, + the Holly Martins, celebrate the release of their new album with a concert at Studio Grand in Oakland.

Friday: The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, featuring percussionist, composer Kahil El’Zabar, baritone sax player Hamiet Bluiett, and trombonist Craig Harris play boundary-breaking modern jazz at the Center for New Music.

Friday- Saturday: Seven-piece funk/jam outfit The Motet rolls into The Independent for two nights. Expect elaborate, trippy covers of classics like The Dazz band’s “Let It Whip,” Donna Summer tunes, and maybe some Zeppelin.

Saturday: The party of the week is at The Chapel, brought to you by Afrolicious.

Saturday: A free concert by Alicia Keyes and Goapele at Sue Bierman Park near Justin Herman Plaza, courtesy of the Super Bowl. Expect it to be packed beyond belief.

Sunday: Love is Alive, a four-part canto in response to violence “against black and brown bodies, against women, against those who do not abide by the norms set out by our dominant culture,” performed by Tammy L. Hall, Amber McZeal, and Arisa White, at Studio Grand in Oakland.

Theater

  The Nether, Jennifer Haley’s very dark thriller about the online world of the future at SF Playhouse.

♦ Satchmo at the Waldorf, Terry Teachout’s one-man show starring John Douglas Thompson looks at the relationship between Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis at ACT’s Geary Theater (reviewed here).

Gem of the Ocean, a moving production of the first of August Wilson’s ten plays looking at a century of the African-American experience at Marin Theatre Company (reviewed here).

Little Erik at the Aurora, a contemporary version of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf.

The Unfortunates, a new musical based on the blues opens a long run at A.C.T.’s Strand this week.

Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn’s cultural look at the Philippines at the end of the Marcos era, opens at the Magic.

Jersey Boys at the Orpheum.

Sagittarius Ponderosa, MJ Kaufman’s family drama with a touch of magical realism and a trans leading character at New Conservatory Theatre.

Opera

Verismo Opera performs Verdi’s Otello at Berkeley’s Hillside Club, Saturday and Sunday.

Dance

Saturday- Sunday: Strangers Become Flowers, a new evening-length dance by choreographer Randee Paufve, explores ideas about the kindness of strangers at ODC (also the following weekend).

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 1, with Yuri Possokhov’s Magrittomania, Helgi Tomasson’s 7 for Eight, and William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts (Weds, Fri.)

♦ San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2, with Blanchine’s Rubies, Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, and Liam Scarlett’s new work, Fearful Symmetries (Tues, Thurs, Sat.)

Film

At the Balboa: Thursday, His Girl Friday. Sunday, free screening of the Super Bowl.

At the Roxie: Tuesday & Thursday, Drugs in the Tenderloin. Wednesday & Thursday, Absolute Beginners. Saturday & Sunday, two different programs of Oscar-nominated short documentaries.

At the Castro: Thursday, a Richard Pryor double feature: Lady Sings the Blues and Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling.

Other 

Tuesday and Sunday of this there will be free admission at many Bay Area museums. Thursday is open gallery night at 49 Geary and other art galleries around town. Also this Thursday, check out the new BAM/PFA space when the galleries are open and free to the public. Magician Christian Cagigal’s Obscura returns for a one-night stand at the Victoria on Friday.


Half-price tickets to shows this week:

Available through Goldstar, and completely legit — you can log-in using your Facebook account or create a new one. They won’t abuse your information, but you will save some money and help support this site since I get a (very) small piece of the action.

Pianist Daniel Pollack at Meyer

Leah Crocetto at the Curran

Jersey Boys

Satchmo at the Waldorf

Gem of the Ocean

Sagittarius Ponderosa

The Nether

Dogeaters

The Unfortunates at A.C.T.’s Strand

Christian Cagigal’s Obscura at the Victoria

San Francisco Symphony: Masaaki Suzuki conducts Haydn, Mozart, and Mendelssohn

New Century Chamber Orchestra


Half-price tickets to shows coming up:

Alvin Ailey at Cal Performances

San Francisco Ballet’s Coppélia

♦Chitresh Dance at Cal Performances

♦San Francisco Symphony: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Bruckner’s 3rd, Maria Joao Pires plays Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto

San Francisco Symphony: Stéphane Denève conducts Prokofiev and Nielsen’s Violin Concerto featuring acclaimed violinist Nikolaj Znaider

The Realistic Joneses at A.C.T.

Swimmers at Marin Theatre Company

The Little Mermaid at Marin Theatre Company

The Petrified Forest

Hair at the Victoria

Voices of Music: Buxtehude, Monteverdi and Purcell

Voices of Music: The Art of the Countertenor

Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock at A.C.T.’s Rueff

Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddygore at YBCA


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The week ahead: January 25 – 31

Here are this week’s best bets for what to see and hear in San Francisco and the East Bay, followed by the listings for classical, music, theater, dance, film, opera and more. Be sure to check the list of half-price tickets at the bottom of the post.


 

Monday:

PinchasThe San Francisco Symphony presents violinist Pinchas Zuckerman conducts and solos in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall. The program also includes Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.


 

Tuesday:

1557268_640688685989698_1711553613_oThe Bay Area’s contemporary chamber music ensemble Wild Rumpus and L.A.’s composer collective Synchromy present new pieces by Jason Barabba, Nick Norton, and Jen Wang, as well as other works at the Center for New Music.


 

Wednesday:

YOUNG MAN WITH A HORNThe Noir City double feature at the Castro is Love Me or Leave Me with Jimmy Cagney and Doris Day, and Young Man with a Horn starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day.


 

Thursday:

Pianist Stephen Hough joins conductor Edwin Outwater and the San Francisco Symphony for an eclectic program of works by Hindemith, Busoni, Weber, with Hough as soloist in Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5, Egyptian.


 

Friday:

drinktomeSan Francisco Ballet’s Program 2, with Balanchine’s Rubies, Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, and Liam Scarlett’s new work, Fearful Symmetries. Scarlett’s Hummingbird has been one of most popular new works seen here in recent seasons, and justifiably so.


Saturday:

Taylor Mac at the Curran.

Taylor Mac’s six-hour marathon of six decades of popular music from 1776 – 1836 makes for a long day (and performed without an intermission), but based on the fantastic 3-hour show I saw last week, this will be an unforgettable, epic performance at the Curran. Bring a pillow for your chair.


 

Sunday:

CanyonCal Performances presents David Robertson conducting the St. Louis Symphony in a multimedia performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux étoiles… (From the Canyons to the Stars). Visuals by Deborah O’Grady showcase Utah’s southern canyons in a concert marking the centenary of the National Park Service. Originally written to commemorate the U.S. bicentennial, Messiaen’s massive orchestral piece utilizes only 44 players to create what the Guardian calls a “staggering” variety of sounds requiring “a shockingly high standard of virtuosity from every player.” At U.C. Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.


Also on the calendar this week:

Classical Music

Monday: Other Minds presents a discussion of “Modern Hits,” with OM’s Director Charles Amirkhanian in conversation with the series’ composers about their work and the Bay Area’s electronic music underground both past and present. At the Goldman Theater in Berkeley. $10 at the door.

Wednesday: The sfSoundSalonseries presents Ectoplasm Variation, electro-acoustic music from John Krausbauer and Luciano Chessa at the Center for New Music. “Trance-Psychedelia is the aim and goal” of Krausbauer’s accordian trio, while Chessa plays the musical saw and other electronics.

Thursday:♦ Cal Performances presents the St. Louis Symphony performing John Adams’ Saxophone Concerto (with soloist Tim McAllister) and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 at Zellerbach Hall.

Thursday – Sunday: ♦ Pianist Stephen Hough joins conductor Edwin Outwater and the San Francisco Symphony for an eclectic program of works by Hindemith, Busoni, Weber, with Hough as soloist in Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5, Egyptian.

Friday: The Guerilla Composers Guild presents Transient Canvas, a marimba and bass clarinet duo from Boston performing new works by Bay Area composers at the Center for New Music.

Friday: Frequency 49, an all-female ensemble plays an almost all-American program of music by Barber, Copland, Bill Douglas, Vernon Duke and William Grant at Old First Church.

Friday – Sunday: The SF Early Music Society performs music from Vienna in a program titled “Quicksilver” including works by Valentini, Bertali, Buonamente, Pandolfi, Kerll, Legrenzi, Fux, Muffat and Schmelzer at various venues across the Bay Area.

Saturday: Chris Isaak performs a free concert, the lights of the Bay Bridge get turned back on, and fireworks will light up the sky as part of the Super Bowl hoopla at Sue Bierman Park near Justin Herman Plaza.

Saturday: The L.A. Signal Lab, a collective with Bay Area roots, performs music from their debut album Whisper and Howl at the Center for New Music.

Sunday: The Ives Collective perform Hindemith’s Quartet for piano, clarinet, violin and cello and Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time at Old First Church.

Sunday: Cellist Helen Newby, trombonist/performer Weston Olencki, and flutist Elise Roy perform music about the dark side of animals by L. A. based composer Kurt Isaacson at the Center for New Music.

Music

Monday: ♦Taylor Mac in a benefit performance for the Magic Theatre.

Monday: The Oakland Freedom Jazz Society presents Andrew Jamieson’s “Spirituals Duos” and the Goldberg/Brown/Anderson trio at Studio Grand in Oakland.

Tuesday: Majical Cloudz‘ sound made them a natural choice to open Lorde’s 2014 tour — downbeat, melancholy, and conceptually arty. At The Chapel.

Wednesday: If you need a mid-week lift, The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers‘ mix of rock and gospel will lift your spirits at The Chapel.

Thursday – Sunday: Flamboyant and unpredictable, there’s isn’t another living organist like the immensely talented Cameron Carpenter, who brings his specially designed touring organ and sound system to SFJazz for four nights of music that could range from Bach to Leonard Cohen, and far beyond.

Thursday: Hailing from Athens, GA, Futurebirds reminds some folks of Crazy Horse with a Southern bent. Maybe, but to my ears their chiming guitars and the sound of pedal steel in songs like “Sam Jones” sounds like the Band is the point of departure.

Friday: ♦ Tiffany Austin sings Creole music from the 1920s & 30s at the Presidio Officer’s Club.

Friday- Saturday: New Orleans’ The Soul Rebels are the real deal, mixing funk, soul, and Big Easy brass into a butt-shaking mix that will turn The Independent a sweaty house party for two nights.

Saturday: La Gente throws cumbia, Afrobeat, and host of Latin styles into a combustible mix at The Chapel. Wear your dancing shoes — the line-up also includes LoCura, 2nd Floor Samurais, and DJ Izzy Wise.

Saturday: Dr. Dog, the lo-fi Philly psychedelic band goes out on tour just as it’s about to release a rerecorded, poppier version of its never-officially released debut album Psychedelic Swamp, making a stop at the Fox in Oakland.

Sunday: ♦ The Luciana Souza Quintet performs music from Souza’s latest album Speaking in Tongues. The Grammy-winning Brazilian vocalist describes the project as an “inquiry into language and conversation” and brings along the formidable talents of guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Massino Biolcati, drummer Kendrick Scott, and Grégoire Maret on the harmonica.

Theater

Opening:

  • Sagittarius Ponderosa, MJ Kaufman’s family drama with a touch of magical realism and a trans leading character at New Conservatory Theatre.

Ongoing:

  • The Nether, Jennifer Haley’s very dark thriller about the online world of the future at SF Playhouse.
  • ♦ Satchmo at the Waldorf, Terry Teachout’s one-man show starring John Douglas Thompson looks at the relationship between Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis at ACT’s Geary Theater (reviewed here).
  • Gem of the Ocean, a moving production of the first of August Wilson’s ten plays looking at a century of the African-American experience at Marin Theatre Company (reviewed here).
  • Jersey Boys at the Orpheum.
  • Noel Coward’s A Song at Twilight at Z Below.

Last call:

  • ♦ A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Taylor Mac’s wild and thoughtful three-hour excursion through the musical past is at the Curran is a musical and theatrical extravaganza.  The final week features Act II: (1806-1836) on January 26-27, with a marathon performance of both Acts I & II on January 30.
  • Rachel Bublitz’s dark, fantastical look at childhood Of Serpents and Sea Spray at Custom Made Theatre.

In previews:

  • Little Erik at the Aurora, an adaptation of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf.

Dance

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 1, with Yuri Possokhov’s Magrittomania, Helgi Tomasson’s 7 for Eight, and William Forsythe’sPas/Parts (Tues, Thurs, Sat.)

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2, with Balanchine’s Rubies, Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, and Liam Scarlett’s new work, Fearful Symmetries (Weds, Fri, Sun.)

Sunday: Mark Foehringer Dance Project|SF presents two premieres celebrating its 20th season at ODC.

Film

At the Balboa: Wednesday, Lee Van Cleef in the spaghetti Western The Big Gundown; Thursday Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.

At the Roxie: Drugs in the Tenderloin, a 1966 documentary about the TL gets a rare screening Thursday and Saturday; The Treasure, a Romanian comedy about searching for buried loot. A.O. Scott of the New York Times wrote “This is a movie that lives up to its name.” Monday – Thursday; The Golden Dream (La Jaula de Oro), one of the most award-winning films ever made in Mexico, through February 4; The Messenger, a French documentary looking at how humans are imperiling the lives of birds across the world, Saturday & Sunday at the Roxie.

At the Castro: ♦ Noir City 14 all week.

The British Arrows Awards, the annual compilation of Britain’s greatest commercials, is at YBCA Thursday and Sunday. Wondering why this is interesting? Let’s just say the Brits do things differently than we do.

Opera

Alameda’s Island City Opera performs Verdi’s Rigoletto Friday and Sunday.

And…

Joyce Carol Oates in conversation with Robert Hass, Tuesday at the Nourse.

Beyond Folsom Street Blues: Tales from South of Market before it was SoMa, Tuesday at YBCA.


Half-price tickets to shows this week:

Available through Goldstar, and completely legit — you can log-in using your Facebook account or create a new one. They won’t abuse your information, but you will save some money and help support this site since I get a (very) small piece of the action.

Royal Philharmonic with Pinchas Zuckerman at Davies: Beethoven, Elgar, Mozart

St. Louis Symphony performs Mahler and Adams

San Francisco Symphony: Edwin Outwater conducts Weber, Busoni, and Saint-Saens’ No. 5 Egyptian feat. pianist Stephen Hough

Jersey Boys

Satchmo at the Waldorf

Gem of the Ocean

Sagittarius Ponderosa

The Nether

Of Serpents and Sea Spray

Noel Coward’s A Song at Twilight


Half-price tickets to shows coming up:

San Francisco Ballet’s Coppélia

♦Chitresh Dance at Berkeley

♦San Francisco Symphony: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Bruckner’s 3rd, Maria Joao Pires plays Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto

San Francisco Symphony: Stéphane Denève conducts Prokofiev and Nielsen’s Violin Concerto featuring acclaimed violinist Nikolaj Znaider

San Francisco Symphony: Masaaki Suzuki conducts Haydn, Mozart, and Mendelssohn

Pianist Daniel Pollack at Meyer

Leah Crocetto at the Curran

Dogeaters at the Magic

The Realistic Joneses at A.C.T.

The Unfortunates at A.C.T.’s Strand

Christian Cagigal’s Obscura at the Victoria

Swimmers at Marin Theatre Company

The Little Mermaid at Marin Theatre Company

The Petrified Forest

Hair at the Victoria

Voices of Music: Buxtehude, Monteverdi and Purcell

Voices of Music: The Art of the Countertenor

Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock at A.C.T.’s Rueff

Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddygore at YBCA


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Behind the Music: Satchmo at the Waldorf

 John Douglas Thompson in Satchmo at the Waldorf. Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage)

John Douglas Thompson in Satchmo at the Waldorf. Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage.

Mommie Dearest, Behind the Music, Mozart in the Jungle — there’s something fun and fascinating about getting a glimpse behind the public facades of the rich and famous and discovering that they, like the rest of us, swear profusely, get loaded, cheat on their spouses, make bad decisions, and otherwise behave badly. This should no longer be a surprise to anyone, but it doesn’t seem to stop us from gawking with pleasure when we get the chance. So I’ll just get this part out of the way — it is amusing to hear Louis Armstrong say “motherfucker!” countless times and talk about getting stoned, but those revelations of Armstrong’s rawer side aren’t the main attraction of Terry Teachout’s fascinating, thought-provoking play Satchmo at the Waldorf.

The one-man play, magnificently performed by John Douglas Thompson, takes place after a gig in Armstrong’s dressing room at the Waldorf-Astoria. As Armstrong, Thompson enters stumbling and gasping, makes his way across the room, falls into a chair, and takes a few deep hits from an oxygen tank. Breaking down physically at 70 years old, our first glimpse of Satchmo signals he’s not long for this world, but when the man gets his wind back and begins to talk in that famous rasp, he comes fully back to life. Slouched, and slowed by time and experience, over the next 90 minutes he talks about his place in the history of jazz and American culture, reminds us of barriers he broke (Armstrong was the first black American to have his own radio show and receive top billing in a movie), tells of the barriers he and others had to deal with (blacks could play in hotels but couldn’t stay in them or eat in their restaurants) and goes into long discourses on the hows and whys of his business affairs and how his success was eventually seen as a sell-out to musicians like Miles Davis.

Thompson cleans a trumpet during the play, but he doesn’t play one. Though it’s discussed, there’s hardly any music heard here beyond portions of “West End Blues,” and yet above everything else Satchmo is about music. Davis, and Armstrong’s manager and business partner Joe Glaser are the other people Thompson portrays, creating counterpoints, making rebuttals, and filling in gaps (some fictional). It’s the presence of these other voices in Teachout’s script, along with Thompson’s ability to switch characters on a dime, that elevates Satchmo at the Waldorf far beyond its familiar format, turning it into a rumination on life in the music business, the role and responsibilities of artists, audience expectations, black music in American arts and culture. Satchmo is compelling, thought-provoking, and entertaining to boot. It’s also a must-see for people whose interest in American music extends into the culture which creates and sustains it.

Satchmo at the Waldorf runs through February 7 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater.


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