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10 Hot Tickets to Bay Area Plays and Musicals This Summer

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Be sure to check out our full 2023 Summer Arts Guide to live music, movies, art, theater, festivals and more in the Bay Area.

Theater companies typically grind hard from September to June, and as a result, the summer months ease up a bit before the cycle starts again in the fall. This doesn’t mean the Bay Area theater scene is a barren wasteland over the summer; quite the opposite.

Bay Area stages this summer host a healthy mix of the classic and contemporary, along with world premieres and hearty musicals. Here are 10 shows from late May to early September that you don’t want to miss.

a photo of three people posed in front of a wooden door, two youngish Latino-appearing men with a Latina woman in an orange standing between them, looking at the camera
Caleb Cabrera and Regina Morones and Samuel Prince in ‘Yerma.’ (Robbie Sweeny)

Yerma

Ashby Stage, Berkeley
May 27–June 18, 2023

Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, whose passion explodes from the ink, has a special quality that knows no end. Lorca’s characters are not simply products of circumstance; they are wholly consumed by fate. His ideas and word combinations are incredibly thrilling.

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In Yerma, a play not as frequently produced as the two others in his Rural Trilogy, the title character is childless, desperately yearning to be a mother. Her desperation leads to her self-destruction, which parallels the tragedy of Lorca himself, killed in 1936 at the hands of a firing squad at age 38. Yerma is the type of play that Shotgun Players does beautifully, with the immeasurable benefit of one of Spain’s greatest voices.

three people, a white woman, a Black man and a Japanese-American man in colorful outfits, perform on a stage with a fake animal skeleton of some kind
Aymee Garcia, Cole Thompson and Kennedy Kanagawa in ‘Into the Woods’ (Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

Into the Woods

The Curran, San Francisco
June 20–25, 2023

The Bay Area is a regular stop for national tours, but Into the Woods offers an added bonus: multiple original cast members from the critically acclaimed Broadway production. The show opened in May of 2022 as a two-week run at the New York City Center before a Broadway transfer led to multiple extensions and six Tony Award nominations.

The masterpiece from James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim joins together multiple plots of various fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm — often with much darker consequences than their Disney counterparts. Making its way out West as well is the melancholy cow puppet Milky White, an aspect of the show that was all the rage in New York.

a young Black woman with curly hair poses for a portrait in a red dress
Longtime Bay Area performer Elizabeth Carter makes her TheatreWorks directorial debut with ‘Steel Magnolias.’ (Jenny Graham)

Steel Magnolias

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
June 7–July 2, 2023

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley has been crafting great, innovative artistry for its recent productions, rethinking what a classic can be and infusing the work with components that expand a show’s inclusivity. (Exhibit A: their Little Shop of Horrors, placed in San Francisco’s Chinatown, this past December.) This year, a play set in the South, which featured an all-white cast in the popular 1989 film, adapts the action into a Black-owned salon. Longtime Bay Area performer Elizabeth Carter directs.

a large group of people in top hats and shiny outfits perform a dance in a chorus line on stage
‘A Chorus Line’ at the London Palladium. San Francisco Playhouse closes its 20th anniversary season with the musical starting June 22. (Alamy)

A Chorus Line

San Francisco Playhouse
June 22–Sept. 9, 2023

San Francisco Playhouse is going all in with its collection of musicals, offering up three in a 12-month span. One of the most decorated musicals in history, winning nine Tony awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1976, A Chorus Line follows a colorful group of dancers vying for a coveted spot on a Broadway chorus line. Each dancer brings deep, personal stories with lots of humor and heartbreak. Despite their variety of backgrounds, each of the dancers ultimately asks the same question — if the dream were to end instantly after so much sacrifice, are there any regrets?

a group of four people, three Black women and one Black man, Questlove, smile for the camera
The team behind ‘Hippest Trip’: Dominique Morrisseau (book), Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson (executive producer), Camille A. Brown (choreography), Kamilah Forbes (director). (Nicola Goode)

Hippest Trip — The Soul Train Musical

Toni Rembe Theater, San Francisco
Aug. 25–Oct. 1, 2023

When Chicago disc jockey Joe Cobb pierced the television speaker with his dulcet falsetto screaming, “The soooooouuulllll train,” followed by Sid McCoy smoothly introducing “the hippest trip in America” while a colorful train bounced along outer space, you knew that Saturday morning was ready to commence with unbridled Black joy. Every ounce of Soul Train is iconic — dapper host Don Cornelius, the Soul Train line, prime fashion, and the show’s indelible role in popular culture.

This new musical, which finally premieres at A.C.T. after plenty of delays, is led by a dream team, including playwright Dominique Morrisseau and musician/Soul Train savant Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. A long-anticipated world premiere, it’s poised to become the theatre event of the summer with high ambitions beyond the Bay Area.

a glass of water on a table in front of a woman's face, lit darkly; she has brown skin and black hair and is wearing dark lipstick
Lisa Ramirez in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.’ (Ben Krantz Studio)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Flax Art & Design, Oakland
May 26–June 18, 2023

Long considered a masterpiece of the American theater, this unflinchingly comedic and profound work from Edward Albee follows middle-aged couple George and Martha, who invite a young professor and his wife over to their place for a nightcap; a dangerous round of fun and games ensues.

Oakland Theater Project is on a roll of late, producing gritty narratives from fresh playwrights while continuing to build upon a healthy repertory company of terrific artists. Popular company members Lisa Ramirez and Michael Socrates Moran perform and direct, respectively.

a portrait of a man with light brown skin and a very short beard wearing a black t-shirt
Ari’el Stachel in ‘Out of Character’ (Sergio Pasquariello)

Out of Character

Berkeley Repertory Theatre
June 23–July 20, 2023

Seeing the beautiful musical The Band’s Visit in 2017 was to witness an incredible set of performances from an all-star cast. One of those performers, the handsome Berkeley-raised talent Ari’el Stachel, made audiences swoon as the confident musician Haled. That swooning was no accident; his performance landed him the 2018 Tony Award for best featured actor in a musical.

Stachel returns home for this solo debut, telling his story of the difficulties he faced as an Israeli American of Yemeni Jewish descent shortly after the 9/11 attacks. In keeping with the homegrown nature of the piece, the show was developed at the Rep’s Ground Floor and is directed by former artistic director Tony Taccone, who led the Rep for 33 years before retiring in 2019.

three people, a Black man in a suit, a Black woman in a white top and black pants and a Black woman in a peach dress, laugh while performing a reading in front of an applauding crowd
Actor Rotimi Agbabiaka, playwright Traci Tolmaire and actor Ryan Nicole Austin perform a staged reading of ‘In the Evening by the Moonlight’ at the Museum of African Diaspora. (Courtesy Lorraine Hansberry Theatre)

In the Evening by the Moonlight

Young Performer’s Theatre at Fort Mason, San Francisco
June 15–July 2, 2023

The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre is the home for this new play that imagines a conversation between three major figures: the theatre’s namesake, Lorraine Hansberry, Nina Simone and James Baldwin. The piece is set in Hansberry’s Waverly Place flat in New York, as the three icons confront a fearful future while expressing hopes for a revolution.

The play, which received a successful reading in April, is written by Traci Tolmaire, and co-created and directed by artistic director Margo Hall.

three white people, two men and one woman, smile for the camera while sitting in an empty theater
The team behind ‘Hamlet’ from the Marin Shakespeare Company, left to right: Jon Tracy (director), Bridgette Loriaux (‘Gertrude’) and Nick Musleh (‘Hamlet’). (Jon Tracy)

Hamlet

Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, San Rafael
June 16–July 16, 2023

Nothing screams summer like Shakespeare in an outdoor setting, and the Marin Shakespeare Company has presented the Bard outside since 1989. Well-known Bay Area director Jon Tracy is taking over the reins as summer season artistic producer, and while he has directed for the company plenty, this is his debut in the new role.

The story of Hamlet has everything one can ask for in a drama — iconic characters, lust, betrayal, greed, humor and deception. To be or not to be in the house? Grabbing some Shakespeare on a beautiful North Bay night under the stars is a definite “to be.”

Timothy Near, director of ‘The Road to Mecca.’ (David Allen)

The Road to Mecca

Z Below, San Francisco
June 4–30, 2023

This work from Athol Fugard, long considered the greatest of South African playwrights, centers an aging Miss Helen, who fills her home and garden with sculptures made from junk after the death of her husband. As her mental health continues to deteriorate, two people — a local pastor and a young teacher — fight to determine the ultimate path of her perilous future.

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The piece brings together a group of artists who last worked together on another Fugard piece at Z Below, A Lesson from Aloes, in 2018. Timothy Near leads the three-hander, reuniting the longtime director with top acting talents Victor Talmadge and Wendy vanden Heuvel.

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