September is the traditional performance-season kick-off, though increasingly things just go on year round. (The Opera & the Symphony have their official season openers this month but those are mostly social occasions & as such of minimal interest from my point of view.) Still, things seem to be heating up as the weather, we hope, cools down. The usual rules apply: check before you go for cancellations or postponements; be prepared to wear a mask inside the theater & to show proof of vaccination.
The Empire Strips Back: A Burlesque Parody is at the revived Great Star Theater in Chinatown through 2 October.
Oakland Theater Project presents The Crucible, Arthur Miller's Salem Witch Trial play, directed by Michael Socrates Moran, from 2 to 25 September.
Aurora Theater gives us the world premiere of This Much I Know by Jonathan Spector, directed by Josh Costello, a time-hopping piece about Lukesh, a psychology professor trying to solve a mystery involving his wife, Natalya; that runs from 2 September to 2 October.
Cal Shakes, in partnership with Oakland Theater Project, presents Lear, Marcus Gardley's modern verse adaptation of King Lear, co-directed by Eric Ting & Dawn Monique Williams, from 7 September to 2 October.
The national tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, which, as you might guess, is a musical based on the Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge!, will be presented at the Orpheum Theater by Broadway SF from 8 September to 6 November. Their site describes the film as "revolutionary", & I am not sure what they mean by that. I saw the film when it came out in 2001 (so long ago that I actually went to a theater to watch it) & I walked out thinking "I have no idea what I thought of that." After several days I decided that it's so much the sort of thing I usually love (stylized, musical) that if I didn't love it, I must have disliked it. Part of the problem for me, aside from the overly simplified characterizations (the sneeringly villainous villains!) is the music, which is the great selling point for a lot of people, but it's just not stuff I know or respond to. Oddly the number I liked best, "Like a Virgin", was originally made famous by one of my least favorite performers ever, the puzzlingly over-rated Madonna. But I liked it because the film-makers did something with it – I still remember the old man in his nightgown dancing down the hall, gleefully singing those silly words. Anyway, as they say, YMMV on this.
Ray of Light Theater presents Kinky Boots, the Cyndi Lauper / Harvey Fierstein musical about a shoe company that discovers a profitable new path thanks to drag performers, at the Victoria Theater in San Francisco from 9 September to 1 October.
Berkeley Playhouse presents Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights from 9 September to 16 October.
Berkeley Rep presents the world premiere of The Ripple, the Wave That Carried Me Home by Christina Anderson, directed by Jackson Gay, about a daughter coming to grips with her parents' activism, specifically her father's work to integrate swimming pools, & that's from 9 September to 6 October.
At San Francisco Playhouse, Sondheim's Follies continues through 10 September, & then from 22 September to 5 November you can see Indecent, directed by Susi Damilano, a co-production with Yiddish Theatre Ensemble of Paula Vogel's recent examination of the events surrounding the 1923 New York City production of Sholem Asch's The God of Vengeance, which was shut down as obscene, mostly due to a lesbian love scene.
Broadway SF presents Aaron Sorkin's Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Bartlett Sher & starring Richard Thomas, from 13 September to 9 October at the Golden Gate Theater. I am possibly the only American who has never read the novel or seen the movie. It's always interesting to me to see what gaps there are for all of us – I mean, I've read a lot of novels & seen a lot of movies, but somehow this one never came up for me.
ACT gives us Passengers by The 7 Fingers & written, directed, & choreographed by Shana Carroll, exploring a group of strangers on a train as they head to their various destinations, & that's at the Geary Theater from 15 September to 9 October.
The New Conservatory Theater Center presents Aunt Jack, about a drag performer & his non-drag son & the rest of their families & lovers, written by Nora Brigid Monahan & directed by Jeffrey Hoffman, from 16 September to 16 October.
Man of God by Anna Ouyang Moench, directed by Michelle Talgarow, about four young women in a Christian mission in Southeast Asia discovering their leader is far from godly, opens at Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage on 3 September & runs through 2 October. As part of their Champagne Staged Reading Series, Shotgun presents Siren by Lisa VillaMil, directed by Cathleen Riddley, an Odyssey-alluding evening about a family dealing with loss, on 19 & 20 September.
42nd Street Moon presents a concert performance of the Tim Rice / Andrew Lloyd Webber Evita on 17 - 18 September at the Alcazar Theater in San Francisco & on 23 - 24 September at the Heritage Theater in Campbell.
Custom Made Theater presents Zac & Siah; or, Jesus in a Body Bag by Jeffrey Lo, directed by Adam L Sussman, in which the titular friends & followers of Jesus try to figure out what to do post-Crucifixion; the production, postponed from an earlier month due to COVID, will now start on 24 September & run through 16 October.
Ballet Master Alonzo King will be in conversation with Steve Kerr, Head Coach of the Warriors, on 16 September at the SF Jazz Center, discussing not only the parallels between dance and sport but also social justice, human rights, mindfulness, & self-care.
The big opera news this month is of course the opening of San Francisco Opera's centennial season; the Opera is wisely kicking things off not with an actual full-length opera, which only delays the parties for the Opening Night crowd, but with a special 90-minute concert on 9 September, featuring Music Director Eun Sun Kim leading Nadine Sierra, Michael Fabiano, Lucas Meacham, & Pene Pati in arias & excerpts from as-yet unidentified works; the next night is one of the biggest musical events of the year, the world premiere of the latest opera from John Adams, Antony & Cleopatra, based on Shakespeare's play, conducted by Kim, directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer, & featuring Amina Edris as Cleopatra, Gerald Finley as Mark Antony, & Paul Appleby as Caesar, & that's on 10, 15, 18, 23, 27 September & 2 & 5 October; Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin is up next, conducted by Vassilis Christopoulos & featuring Evgenia Muraveva as Tatyana, Gordon Bintner as Onegin, & Evan LeRoy Johnson as Lensky (all making their SF Opera debuts, as is the conductor, in Robert Carsen's production as revived by Peter McClintock), & you can experience it on 25 & 28 September & 1, 6, 9, 11, & 14 October.
The Wagner Society of Northern California will be screening a new documentary by Axel Brüggemann, Global Wagner, From Bayreuth to the World, examining the world-wide cult of Wagner, on 17 September at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco.
Chanticleer opens its season with Labyrinths, which will include music by Josquin des Prez, Trevor Weston, Steven Sametz, Tania León, & George Walker, & that's 20 September at First (Congregational) Church in Berkeley, 22 September at Mission Santa Clara, & 23 - 24 September at the Green Room in the War Memorial Complex in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Symphony kicks off its season with Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen & with the participation of actors from the African-American Shakespeare Company, on 23 September, but be warned that this is the "Opening Night Gala" & usually such events are not only much more expensive, with even worse audiences than usual, but artistically thin, though perhaps one of Salonen's innovations at the Symphony will be to buck that trend. Opening Gala out of the way, the Symphony & Salonen return on 24 September with Mozart's Overture to The Impresario, the SF Symphony premiere of Florence Price's Violin Concerto 2 (with soloist Randall Goosby), & Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra.
Then on 29 September & 1 - 2 October, Salonen leads the SF Symphony in an as-yet unnamed world premiere from Trevor Weston along with the Mahler 2, with soloists Golda Schultz (soprano) & Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano).
Music Director / Concertmaster Daniel Hope leads the New Century Chamber Orchestra in Berlin 1938: Broadcasts from a Vanishing Society, a multi-media imaginary "radio play" featuring vocalists Thomas Hampson and Horst Maria Merz that explores a threatening time & place through music from Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Hanns Eisler, & others; that's 16 - 18 September at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco.
On 24 September at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Edwin Outwater conducts the SFCM Orchestra in the Mahler 3, featuring mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the San Francisco Boys Chorus, & the SFCM Conservatory Chorus.
At the Center for New Music on 24 September, the Opus Project presents Opus 95, which is, as you might guess, the Opus 95 works by composers ranging from the baroque to our contemporaries, including Buxtehude, Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Wilhelm Taubert, Alexandre Dubuque. Brahms, Dvořák, Fauré, Ignaz Brull, René Lenormand, Benjamin Godard, Luise Greger, Stravinsky, Poulenc, Mark Alburger, Cyril Plante. & Roberto Novegno, "with a couple of other pieces thrown in, because we like them!" (This program was rescheduled from 9 July.)
Cal Performances presents the Dover Quartet at Hertz Hall on 25 September, where they will perform works by Haydn, Amy Beach, & Mendelssohn.
Old First Concerts presents the Ives Collective on 25 September, performing works by Missy Mazzoli, Germaine Tailleferre, & Amy Beach.
Early / Baroque Music
On 25 September the Cantata Collective resumes its series of free concerts exploring Bach's cantatas at Saint Mary Magdalen's in Berkeley with Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn BWV 23 & Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 33, featuring soloists Jennifer Paulino (soprano), Christine Brandes (alto), Derek Chester (tenor), & Harrison Hintzsche (bass).
The San Francisco Early Music Society presents Brooklyn's Alkemie with the "other side of courtly love", through medieval French songs from "a female or non-gendered poetic perspective", including works by Gilles de Binchois, Gualterius Libert, & "the ever-intriguing Anonymous", as well as readings from Christine de Pizan, & that's 30 September at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 1 October at First (Congregational) Church in Berkeley, & 2 October at Saint Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.
Modern / Contemporary Music
The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble starts its 30th season with Up Next! Exuberance & Brilliance from Young Composers, featuring the world premiere of Canon Cadenza Cadence Cluster by Sky Macklay. Things You Don't Yet Know You Feel by Sarah Westwood (the 2020 Left Coast Chamber Ensemble Composition Contest Winner), Lickety Split by Carlos Simon, & the Piano Quartet 1 in G minor, Opus 25, a youthful work by Brahms; & you can hear the program on 18 September at the Hillside Club in Berkeley & 19 September at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
On 18 September at Old First Concerts, pianist Lynn Schugren performs Treasures from the Mother Lode, featuring world premieres from Mark Vance, Dennis Lauderdale, & Durwynne Hseieh (all of them from the Sierra Nevada), along with Terry Riley's Heaven Ladder book 7.
On 22 September at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, the SF Jazz Center presents Chucho Valdés with a new, three-movement suite, La Creación, telling the creation story according to La Regla de Ocha, the Afro-Cuban religion also known as Santería; the performance features pianist Valdés himself, along with the Yoruban Orchestra, MONK'estra, & Music Directors Hilario Durán & John Beasley.
Le Vent du Nord, a group from Quebec featuring accordion, guitar, fiddle, & hurdy-gurdy, visits Freight & Salvage on 25 September to play tunes traditional & original.
See also the world premiere of the newest John Adams opera, Antony & Cleopatra, at San Francisco Opera (under Operatic).
The Mike Greensill Trio makes its annual Labor Day appearance at Old First Concerts on 4 September, performing a mix of original music & selections from the trove of the Great American Songbook.
Paula West sings at the Museum of the African Diaspora (presented by MOAD along with the SF Jazz Center) on 7 September.
Leyla McCalla, a cellist, banjoist, singer, & guitarist formerly with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, comes to the SF Jazz Center from 8 to 11 September with songs of social struggle & protest from her new album, Breaking The Thermometer.
Pianist Brad Mehldau performs 19 - 20 September at Herbst Theater (presented by SF Jazz; these concerts are rescheduled from last February).
Joshua Redman's Moodswing Quartet (Redman on tenor saxophone, Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass, & Brian Blade on drums) performs at the SF Jazz Center on 23 September.
Brass trio The Sticklerphonics (Scott Amendola, Raffi Garabedian, & Danny Lubin-Laden) perform at SF Jazz on 29 - 30 September.
On 29 September, the Chapel Trio (tenor saxophonist & flutist Charles Lloyd, with Thomas Morgan on bass & a guitarist TBD) perform at the SF Jazz Center.
The Full series at BAM/PFA, programmed by Sean Carson, offers a program postponed from May 2020: Touch Bass, a collaboration between choreographer Risa Jaroslow & bassist/composer Lisa Mezzacappa, featuring three dancers, three bassists, and three double basses, on 10 - 11 September with a free open rehearsal on 8 September.
The World Ballet Series, which I'm not familiar with, presents Swan Lake, which I am familiar with, on 18 September at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater; all the website says is that it "will be performed live by a multinational cast of 50 professional ballet dancers".
Miami City Ballet comes to Cal Performances (specifically, Zellerbach Hall) on 23 - 25 September with Balanchine's Jewels, accompanied by the Berkeley Symphony, which will be led by Gary Sheldon.
Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy, instead of closing in early September, will now run through 27 November, & even if the thought of fashion leaves you cold, this fantastical, sumptuous show is worth the trek out to the Legion of Honor.
BAM/PFA presents Undoing Time: Art and Histories of Incarceration from 3 September through 18 December.
You can celebrate Pier Paolo Pasolini's 100th birthday at the Castro Theater on 10 September with a viewing of Abel Ferrara’s biopic, starring Willem Dafoe as Pasolini, followed by four films from the master himself: Accattone, Mamma Roma, Medea (featuring Callas, but in a non-singing role), & his attack on fascism, the famous/infamous Salò; or, the 120 days of Sodom.
The Pacific Film Archive portion of BAM/PFA kicks off several film series this month: the African Film Festival starts on 7 September with Neptune Frost & runs through 29 October; that date & film are also the start for the Alternative Visions series, which runs through 30 November; Undoing Time: Cinema and Histories of Incarceration, running in conjunction with the similarly named exhibit at the museum, starts 8 September with Rabbit in the Moon; Elaine May: Age of Irony explores her work as a film director, beginning with Mikey & Nicky on 9 September & concluding on 30 September with the notorious Ishtar, which I saw when it came out & which I remember as being unjustly maligned; & on 24 -25 September, Cambodian film-maker Rithy Panh, whose work explores the Cambodian genocide & the lasting effects of war, will appear in person, presenting two of his recent films (The Missing Picture on the 24th & Irradiated on the 25th).