California celebrates every flavor of live performance
On with the Show
The Hollywood Bowl dates to 1922 and is home to the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and summer home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Hundreds of musical events are held every year in this amphitheater with its signature band shell, where a capacity of 17,500 people can gather beneath the famous Hollywood sign on the hill beyond. Above, the USC marching band performs with the symphony and fireworks. Performance is the lifeblood of the arts, especially in California. From the Barbary Coast docks to the Paramount studio lots, drama, dance and music have always been an indelible part of the “Left Coast” spirit. The state’s scores of concert halls, symphony orchestras, theaters, jazz clubs, dance companies, comedy troupes, cabarets, operas and fringe festivals lay waste to the notion of spending a quiet evening (or even an afternoon) at home. A full accounting is impossible, but here are some suggestions to consider.
San Diego’s venerable La Jolla Playhouse has seen 26 of its productions move to Broadway, earning 35 Tony Awards. The Old Globe Theatre presents the plays of Shakespeare (of course), as well as works by the likes of Arthur Miller and an annual Christmas production penned by a late local resident: Dr. Seuss.
Los Angeles features dozens of small theater companies—such as the Open Fist, the Actor’s Co-op, the diverse Cornerstone and the Blank Theater (which hosts the annual Young Playwrights Festival). The city’s star attraction is the Center Theatre Group, with everything from top-shelf classics to cutting-edge solo performances on three stages: the Mark Taper Forum, the Kirk Douglas Theatre and the Ahmanson Theatre.
San Francisco’s legendary American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T), the Eureka Theatre, the Magic Theatre, Z Space and Aurora are just a few of the city’s beloved native companies—not to mention the politically charged San Francisco Mime Troupe, now in its 59th year. For solo performance, check out both Intersection for the Arts and The Marsh, which has locations in San Francisco and Berkeley. A terrific addition to the Bay Area theater scene is We Players, “connecting people with place through site-integrated theatre.”
Across the Bay Bridge, Berkeley Repertory Theatre continues its tradition of inspired experimentation. And don’t overlook “Cal Shakes”—the California Shakespeare Company—with its gorgeous open-air venue in the Orinda hills. Other excellent California theaters include the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, San Jose Repertory and the Sacramento Theater Company. Finally, the state hosts no less than five cutting-edge Fringe Festivals.
Symphonies, Opera & Ballet
Frank Owen Gehry designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic, to be one of the most acoustically perfect performance spaces on earth. California’s other preeminent orchestra is the San Francisco Symphony, directed by the legendary Michael Tilson Thomas, at home in the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara all support superb orchestras as well.
Opera still maintains a huge following in California, with nearly thirty companies across the state. The San Francisco Opera and Los Angeles Opera are two of the largest in North America, with global reputations for set production and excellence. Kudos as well to the renowned Long Beach Opera, now in its fourth decade.
Ballet in the Golden State has an equally impressive pedigree. The San Francisco Ballet, founded in 1933, was the first professional ballet company in the country. The California Ballet Company in San Diego, largest in the region, has a stellar international reputation. The Los Angeles Ballet is a relative newcomer to the scene, while the reinvigorated Oakland Ballet recently marked its 50th anniversary.
Jazz & Blues
Here’s a quick sampler of the state’s best jazz and blues clubs. Oakland is a hotbed of jazz with Yoshi’s in Jack London Square, Geoffrey’s Inner Circle and quirky Birdland. In San Francisco, don’t miss the SF Jazz Center, and visit The Saloon and Club Deluxe for blues. In Santa Cruz, it’s the Kuumbwa Jazz Center; in Fullerton, Steamers; the Baked Potato and Catalina in Hollywood; Charlie O’s in Van Nuys; and The Torch Club (for blues) in Sacramento. In LA, find the hottest new offerings at the Jazz Bakery.
Rock ’n’ Roll ’n’ More
From the Doors to the Dead, California has long been Ground Zero for great live music. In San Francisco, check out what’s on at the Fillmore, the Warfield, the Independent and Great American Music Hall. Some of the best venues in the East Bay include the Fox and glorious Paramount Theater in Oakland, as well as Berkeley’s Greek Theatre—known simply as “the Greek.” In Marin County, Sweetwater Music Hall often hosts well-known artists.
Looking to rock it in LA? Check out the Troubadour, the Roxy and Whisky a Go Go, an LA institution since 1964. Some other legendary California venues include the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, the Casbah and “the Brick” (Brick by Brick) in San Diego.
THE SAN FRANCISCO OPERA stages Tosca, opposite bottom; Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in Symphonic Dances, San Francisco Ballet, left; Jackie Greene performs at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, below.