jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of 2017

This year benefited from the serious good will of many friends…sharing comps, gifting me tickets, or taking me as their date. I could nearly call this it the Cheap & Free Top 10 of SF, and yet I’m clear it may not have been so cheap for them, so that’s not quite accurate. Whatever the case, it is with an special level of gratitude that I share my ninth annual jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of the SF Bay Area.

What were your favorite Bay Area performances of the year? Please share in the comments.

1) La Temple de la Gloire, Philharmonia Baroque, Zellerbach Hall, April 28

QUELLE GLORIEUSE! To see such a lovingly and idiomatically rendered rare gem of French Baroque opera was utterly transporting, from the fantastically pompous overture replete with Falcon Crest-like trills, to the appearance of a queen bedecked in silver Glinda costume, with Statue of Liberty-esque headpiece. It had not been performed since its original debut in 1745!

The cast’s training in early music style showed in their trills, and phrasing, and they were clearly not just putting on this style. It included countless sumptuous french lyric sopranos, and more than one true, ringing haute-contre (incl. the virtuosic Aaron Sheehan). The dance troupe perfectly balanced fluidity and restraint, and was headed by a true baroque dance star, Olsi Gjeci (from Vlorë, Albania). He was entrancing, in embodying qualities of femininity and masculinity, from his white lily entrance, to his Bacchus drunken antics.


Photo; Jeff Phillips

The Philharmonia Baroque Chorale sounded 3X its size in spirit and volume (were they miked?). The orchestra perfectly bubbled and lilted. A fanciful ostrich served up very sexy legs. The costumes would make Mackey or Galliano swoon. Bacchus and Érigone’s impossibly saturated and colorful East Indian-inspired costumes stood out. I could go on. Breathtaking. The Trajan scene was the only scene that dragged a bit for me.

It was allegedly a “million dollar production.” Well, it showed. And to see such a packed house, and hearty response to a baroque opera really says something. BRAVI!!!

Here is a fascinating video showing the making of and preparations for the production.

2) Coco Peru: The Taming of the Tension, Oasis SF, March 8

I inadvertently went to “church” on this eve…and encountered a priestess that made me sob, swoon, and snort. She was sentimental, spiritual, with a heavy helping of sarcasm. She is Coco Peru! I’ve never paid much attention to her (I’ve always been more a fancier of Jackie Beat and Varla Jean), but now I’m a believer.

This artist takes “drag” where it rarely goes…to meaningful places. Through compelling and riotous storytelling, with a sense of intent and conviction that is faultless.


Her setlist included: I Touch Myself, The Fear (Lily Allen cover), Somewhere That’s Green, Nowadays, The Killing Moon (Echo and the Bunnyman cover), and humor/subjects incl. “The circles” (re: a certain Spanish lizard), Liza & Shirley, Chita, love, social media, “yaaassss queen,” theatre etiquette, facial fillers, 8 more years (before retirement)…

“For years I’ve helped young people find their voice. Now I want to say shut the fuck up. Our world is not your reality tv show.”

How did Coco end up above Hamilton? Well, she speaks my language, so it landed right at the center of my heart.

3) HAMILTON, Orpheum Theater, March 9 (SF Premiere!)

I was stunned and awed by Andy Blankenbuehler’s masterful choreography. Sensual, passionate, high concept, organic. Having played in high school theatre with Andy, and connecting with him again at this performance, my lens was no doubt skewed towards his contribution to this iconic show. Every moment rich with choreographic storytelling.

A particular heart palpitation movement the dancers did really resonated to me. Andy titled it the “Martha Graham” moment. A few months later at a local dance workshop through Pop Star Booty Camp, I was able to try a portion of Andy’s “The Room Where it Happens” choreography, taught by Derek Mitchell, resident choreographer. It was a real thrill, and really got under my skin.

Aside from the PBS documentary, and the Tonys, I hadn’t exposed myself to the soundtrack or show in any meaningful way, so I was able to experience this performance very much in the moment, almost as new material. (Truth be told, something about an over-produced sound quality to the soundtrack, and Lin Manuel’s voice didn’t draw me in.) LIVE, it’s a whole other beast.


Photo: Joan Marcus

I favored Emmy Raver-Lampman as Angelica, and Amber Iman in the small part of Maria (with rich, alto, Sarah Vaughan tone). I couldn’t keep my eyes off the male ensemble dancer, Andrew Wojtal, who also played a judge for a blink, among other small roles. He was a major talent, so committed to every movement. I enjoyed qualities about each of the leads, and especially appreciated the rawness and realness of Michael Luwoye in the title role. It was great not having any celebrity casting choices to distract.

The role of the King of England (Rory O’Malley) was indeed much needed humor in the midst of the intensity and great amount of words to take in of the hip hop/poetry slam style of much of the show. The tender and sassy moments (i.e. the Schuyler Sisters) were for me the most accessible, given my lens and tastes.

4) Elektra, San Francisco Opera, October 6

Christina Goerke was nearly tireless in the title role. A force of nature. She somehow balanced the productions’ brooding Jersey-girl museumgoer concept, with the epic tragedienne. She’s the real reason I knew I couldn’t miss this production. Well, and the score. Few things are as satisfying as a Strauss score pouring over you.

Goerke offered an insane commitment to every dramatic detail and truth, using every ounce of her body and soul. IF I spoke German, I imagine I could understand every word. She clearly is connected to this company, and the audience, as the tenderness seemed to show up even in the generosity in her bows.


Photo: Cory Weaver

I enjoyed the modern and stark museum set design, and the the ways the props and costumes were set as antiquities and then integrated as the opera proceeded. It was fresh visually without over-powering the piece.

Micaela Martens was a great surprise, looking like Tyne Daly in a Lucy Ricardo costume, and employing lieder-like nuance and chops. I was initially disappointed Stephanie Blythe had withdrawn before its opening, but surely this was a most beautifully sung Klytemnestra, especially relative to the swan songs in this role most retiring sopranos and divas dish up, as a friend calls #SquallFest.

5) Jefferson Starship in Concert, Mt. Tam Playhouse, June 10

This concert was a tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the Magic Mountain Festival, the first ever rock festival, featuring many of the greats from that time (incl. Jim Morrison, Dionne Warwick, Grace Slick…)!

The setlist included: Don’t You Want Somebody to Love, White Rabbit, Find Your Way Back, “The Worst Song Ever” We Built This City (they thankfully had fun with this too), Sarah, and more…


Photo of Cathy Richardson: jcm

Cathy Richardson and David Freiberg had Wagnerian rock voices. It was really exciting to hear them live! Dancing near the stage with a gaggle of fans, to White Rabbit and We Built This City was a holotta fun. It was nice to see about 1/3 or so of the audience looked like legit hippies, and clearly were clearly having a real moment here.

Two other rock bands, AND A full production of the musical HAIR by Mountain Play followed. I very much appreciated the earnestness with which the HAIR production was put together and performed on this momentous occasion. David Crane as Berger was a highlight for me, fully embodying this difficult and complex role in looks and spirit.

6) Alison Moyet, The Fillmore, Sept. 25

The Fillmore once again proved to be the perfect venue, in mood, vibe and acoustics. One of these days I’ll remember to reserve a balcony cove and seat for the perfect vantage point. Not knowing much about Alison, nor tracking her solo career, I expected her to be dry and droll. She was positively charming and smiled wide after nearly every song. She was clearly enjoying herself, which was infectious.


Photo: jcm

In an interview I caught online, she shared that the upside of her agoraphobia and introversion during her early fame has kept he voice just as fresh in this late prime. And we could really hear that. Woody, plummy, and yet expressive with surprising high notes.

The primarily gay male 40-something audience clearly loved her. We danced through all the hits.

The complete setlist: I Germinate, When I Was Your Girl, Wishing You Were Here, Only You (Yazoo), Ski, Nobody’s Girl (Yazoo), Getting Into Something, Changeling, Beautiful Gun, The Man in the Wings*, This House, Love Go, Right as Rain*, The Rarest Birds, All Cried Out, Happy Giddy, Don’t Go (Yazoo), Alive, Move Out (Yazoo)

Encores: Love Resurrection*, Situation* (Yazoo)

* my highlights

7) Foreverland, Sweetwater Music Hall, Sept. 29

I went to this concert for a dear friend’s birthday celebration. This 14-Piece Michael Jackson Tribute Band offered an amazing array of hits. I couldn’t think of a hit song of his I like or can recall that they DIDN’T do. It’s fronted by some great singers, a full band with tireless energy, an adorable horn trio of three dudes who provide playful backup dancing as well throughout.


We danced with them for 3 hours. It felt like 45 minutes. I loved how it took me back to so many points throughout my life too. Each song a bookmark for an era or period of my life.

8) Manon, San Francisco Opera, Nov. 10

I enjoyed this production far more than I expected to. I found it more compelling than the traditional production I last saw here in the ’98-99 with Ruth Ann Swenson (although she was satisfying). Michael Fabiano was amazing here, as expected. Always delivering true italianate squillo, ala Jose Carreras. I also savored his tender pianissimo singing.

Act I was quite frenetic musically and in staging, and Manon was portrayed in a very unlikeable and gawky manner, resembling Mary Poppins. And there was quite a bit of laughter in response to the speedy falling in love, which may not uncommon for opera, but here seemed to happen in a blink. I did enjoy Ellie Dehn in the title role after that Act. She looked lusty in the part, and sang plenty well. She could have used a notch or two more volume, and her in alt bits weren’t thrilling (ala a true coloratura), but she wasn’t disappointing.


I loved the Cours-la-Reine scene here…festive, creative, and engaging. This included Manon’s costume, offering a dash of Gaga, a dash of period, and a dash of couture. A fabulous look, head to toe. Also, her black dress in the penultimate act with a red corset ribbon/string on the back was ravishing.

James Creswell as Comte des Grieux delivered a very satisfying voluminous, booming voice and silver fox daddy vibe (sexy). I found David Pershall as Lescaut grating, unfunny, and one-note. A caricature not a character. (Perhaps that 2D quality is the intention for this role?) However, if someone is a caricature, I’d hope they were entertaining, and this portrayal was not for me.

The lighting affects and strong shadows were compelling. They almost became a character, and lent a more metaphorical, allegorical feel to the story and characters. Overall the production had me captive till the bitter end, some gripes aside.

9) The Sound Healing at St. Marys, Jan. 30

Sound Meditation (often known as ‘sound healing’) is the practice of listening to soothing sounds to reach profound states of clarity and relaxation. It opens up deep meditative states that are usually unreachable without considerable effort. These events are quite trendy these days, and understandably, with so much socio-political discord, and tumult. Sometimes, rather than always trying to fix what’s broken out there (via action), we can just lie down and heal, and therefore be better agents of change, and pure presence to our lives, challenges, and joys.


Photo: jcm

During this event we lay down and were bathed in sound. It was very hypnotic, and ethereal, and some lighting effects added to the soothing sensoral experience.

The musicians were led by Guy Douglas (gong, crystal singing bowls, flute), and featured Alexandra Love Sarton of Beautiful Chorus (vocals), as well as Danny Goldberg {gong, Tibetan singing bowls}, Loriel Starr (gong), Wendy Tahara (harp), Marco Ferrero (gong), Athene Eisenhardt {flute & didgeridoo}, Dan Neville (vibraphone), Simona Asinovski (crystal singing bowls), and Lydia Hwang (monochord).

10) Bitch Slap!, Oasis SF, August 12

This new live drag theatre gem delivered the SLAPS! AND the laughter. Very thankfully, SF is rich with drag and drag theatre these days. As an aside, they are allegedly receiving a Guinness Book of World Records record for the amount of stage slaps.

It made for a very fun night, incl. steroidal shoulder pads, grand over-schmactimg, and epic stair falls. A real San Francisco treat from the fabulous mind of D’Arcy Drollinger. He played to each of the performers strengths in custom crafting each role. I look forward to a sequel! (And, word has it there could be a filmed version in the future. #FingersCrossed)


The production made great use of video assets, including uproarious commercial breaks. Oasis had a real hit with BitchSlap.

My favorite details and moments were Lemay’s perfect teenagery wig, Matthew Martin’s ditzy entrances, Valentine’s Michelle Lee-esque lower lip quiver, and more!

Performances of Note (not above):

From Merola 60th Anniv. Gala, Herbst Theatre, June 11
Dolora Zajick’s “Voi lo Sapete,” Quin Kelsey’s “Nemico de la Patria”, and Tracy Dahl’s offerings. Her Graziella Sciutti-scaled coloratura hasn’t aged in 2 decades…a marvel! And with such commited acting. The best actor on the stage. The opening “Belle Nuit” in which the conductor invited the Merolini in the audience to sing along was magical.

From the West Edge Opera Hamlet
In this production, the “Glyndebourne of the West” presented Emma McNairy as Ophelie and Edward Nelson as Hamlet. Her mad scene was inventively staged, and her voice unique and exciting. He offered mellifluous tone, and unforced technique, if his brooding acting was a bit underpowered. I enjoyed the Burner sculptures out front of the new urban venue, and Burning Man music blasting from a nearby warehouse offered an amusing juxtaposition, more compelling and provoking than bothersome to me.

From the San Francisco Opera Turandot
The Hockney production itself (a desert island production for me), the SFO Chorus, Leah Crocetto returning as Liù, and Solomon Howard as Timur were the real stars for me in this remounting.

Top 10 Movies of the Year (that I saw):
Hidden Figures
Rebels on Pointe
Lady Bird
The Big Sick
Get Out
Walk With Me (Thich Naht Han)
Ingrid Goes West
A Ghost Story

Top 5 Series (Season) of the Year:
Stranger Things
Claws (living for Niecy Nash!)
Feud: Bette & Joan
When We Rise

Check out last year’s list.

Now, get thee to a live performance in 2018. Support local theatre and artists!

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