These days, San Francisco’s waterfront is bursting with FitBit wearing-joggers and heated patio seating, so it’s easy to forget that it was once one of the country’s foremost centers of delinquency, dirt and desire. Performance was the chief currency of The Barbary Coast, with its dance halls, jazz clubs, variety shows, and brothels. By the time Carol Doda was plying her trade in the neighborhood, its seedy spirit had cleaned up a bit. Yet San Francisco’s legendary go-go gal still managed to make an artform of striptease and keep the city’s shiny-moneyed veneer in much-needed check. Doda died a few days ago at the age of 78 -- and the outpouring of love from fans and friends serves as a reminder that as fast as the Bay Area changes, it still manages somehow to hold onto its soul.
This week, Boxcar Theater announced that it will be re-launching The Speakeasy, right in the heart of Doda’s old stomping grounds. Part gambling den, part dive bar serviced by actors in fedoras and spats, the immersive show (which had a successful five-month run until it closed in June last year) throws audiences into the world of a Prohibition-era saloon. The company broke ground on a new site at 664 Broadway last Friday. When The Speakeasy launches an open-ended run in 2016, it’ll help to conjure that Barbary Coast feeling again.
Speaking of artists working hard to help the Bay Area retain its soul, the variety of performing arts events going on this week should disabuse anyone of the idea that the region ever lost it. So strap that FitBit to your wrist and head on out.
Thursday, Nov. 19 - Saturday, Nov. 21: Steve Cuiffo is Lenny Bruce at the Curran Theatre, San Francisco. Magician Steve Cuiffo’s latest conjuring act involves bringing Lenny Bruce back from the dead. By all accounts, it’s a successful resurrection: Not only does the slight-framed, dark-haired impersonator resemble the legendary bad boy comedian, but his solo show, in town for three days as part of the Curran Theatre’s feisty “Curran: Under Construction” series, has also been widely praised since Cuiffo first performed the piece in New York in 2011. Back then, Cuiffo reproduced Bruce’s famous 1961 appearance at Carnegie Hall in honor of the august venue’s 150th anniversary. Similarly, the San Francisco run celebrates 54 years since Bruce stepped onto the Curran stage to fascinate and terrify audiences with his no-holds-barred diatribes on sex, drugs, and race.
Saturday, Nov. 21: International Body Music MiniFest at the Freight & Salvage, Berkeley. Bay Area artist-educator Keith Terry has invented an unusual approach to teaching kids math: through moving their bootys. He inspires students to clap, slap and dance their way through the largely static business of learning their addition, fractions and multiplication tables. Terry’s “Rhythm of Math” system is part of a one-day jamboree dedicated to the art of body percussion that includes all day public workshops as well as an evening performance. On the roster are a slew of body music aficionados headlined by Molodi, a Las Vegas-based street dance troupe. Practitioners of Mexican zapateado (a form of rhythmic movement akin to tap) and North and South Indian Kathak and Konnakkol dance round out the chest-thumping, foot-stomping program.
Friday, Nov. 20 - Sunday, Nov. 22: San Francisco International Hip-Hop DanceFest at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco. For 17 years, the formidable San Francisco International Hip-Hop DanceFest has helped to put and keep the Bay Area front and center when it comes to street dance in all its many forms. The main reason for this is the longstanding quality and geographic diversity of the offerings, which in 2015 include some of the best groups from countries as far-flung as Japan, Holland, and the UK, as well as troupes from points closer to home like Philly, Memphis, and L.A. Yet it’s the local offerings that so often get people krunking all the way to the Palace of Fine Arts, and this year’s event is no exception. The lineup includes Oakland-based Spulu's devastating Black vs. Blue, which examines police violence and pays homage to Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Mike Brown, Alex Nieto and Eric Garner in a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement. It also features Medea Sirkas, a company founded in 1991 in San Francisco’s Fillmore District and have brought their Bay Area hip-hop sensibility to collaborations with the likes of Usher and Justin Bieber.
Now through Sunday, No. 29: Opera San Jose presents The Marriage of Figaro at The California Theatre, San Jose. Mozart’s comic opera has become one of the greatest hits of the genre since it first appeared in Vienna in 1786. The opera tells the coquettish tale of the outmaneuvering of a faithless count by his wily servants and long-suffering wife. The work is packed with show-stopping tunes and good humor, so it’s no wonder that it consistently reigns near the top of the list of the world’s most performed operas. Opera San Jose assembles a lively, talented cast for its production at The California Theatre, including Amina Edris (of the San Francisco Opera’s prestigious Merola opera program) in the role of Susanna and up-and-coming bass-baritone Ben Wager as everyone’s favorite hair stylist, Figaro.
Thursday, Nov. 19 - Sunday, Dec. 13: Cavalia presents Odysseo in the big top at AT&T Park, San Francisco. I wasn’t expecting to fall for an equestrian circus when I caught Odysseo last year in Denver at the behest of a horse-loving friend. But the sheer scale and spectacle of the thing, with its glossy steeds galloping -- they were practically dancing, really -- across a stage that morphed with seamless technicolor shimmer from one staggeringly beautiful setting to the next, converted me if only for one evening from a neigh-sayer to the oddball art form’s most passionate fan. The show’s pristinely executed combination of horsemanship and theater is no great shakes on the storytelling front. But that hardly matters when your mind’s reeling at the sight of 65 horses, a three-story mountain and an 80,000-gallon lake.