Best Bets: Mo Amer, Dresden Dolls, Unique Derique, and more

Composer Sumi Tonooka will have her "Sketch at Seven" receive its world premiere at free concerts given by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra. (Courtesy Sumi Tonooka)

Freebie of the week: One of the great unsung gifts classical music lovers get several times every year are the no-admission-fee concerts the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, under the new leadership of conductor Jory Fankuchen, play in several venues across the Bay Area.

The upcoming “The New and the Great” program being presented in San Francisco, Berkeley and Palo Alto over the weekend promises to be an uncommonly rewarding one. “Sketch at Seven,” from Philadelphia-based composer Sumi Tonooka, which receives its world premiere Friday in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco, is a work that emanates from some of her earliest self-recorded memories, from “a sketch book of drawings and musical journals that I made when I was very young that was sent back to me after some 40 years…..When I opened the sketchbook it was like a doorway into the past and future, mysterious and profound.” 

Following it is Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, with upcoming artist Sara Flexer as featured soloist. And the “great” part of the program? That would be Franz Schubert’s magnificent Symphony No. 9 in C Major, aka “The Great.”

Performance time in San Francisco is 7:30 p.m., with repeats at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church and 3 p.m. Monday at Palo Alto’s First United Methodist Church. For more information, visit 

Longtime collaborators Jon Nakamatsu, left, and Jon Manasse will be performing at the San Jose Chamber Orchestra’s “Celebration” concert. (Courtesy Jon Nakamatsu and Jon Manasse)

Raising the musical glass: The San Jose Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Barbara Day Turner, welcomes in the new year with a “Celebration” program that will include contributions from frequent longtime collaborators, pianist Jon Nakamatsu and clarinetist Jon Manasse, with the latter’s son Alec, also a clarinetist. Works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Johann Strauss II, Vivian Fung, Michael Touchi and Henry Mollicone are on tap, and there will be a sparkling wine reception following the performance.

It takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday in St. Francis Episcopal Church in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood. Find tickets, $15-$75, at, (408) 295-4416 or at the door. 

Mo Amer, of Netflix’s comedy “Mo” about his life in Houston. performs six shows over New Year’s Eve weekend at San Jose Improv. (Netflix via Bay City News)

More of Mo: It can’t be easy for a teenage Palestinian-American immigrant living in Houston, Texas, under any circumstances. But life for 14-year-old Mohammed Amer took a dramatic turn when his father died. He started skipping school and taking unsupervised trips to Mexico with his friends. Then a teacher stepped in and offered to let him avoid school disciplinary measures if he would perform Shakespeare monologues and then comedy bits in front of his class.

Obviously, the teacher recognized something that the rest of the world has discovered — Mohammed Amer has a knack for performing, especially when there is humor involved. What he’s done since then is impressive. Under the moniker Mo Amer, he’s been a hit at comedy clubs around the world, both as a solo act and as part of the Allah Made Me Funny comedy tour.

He has starred in a handful of televised comedy specials, including “Legally Homeless” in 2015 (a reference to his undocumented immigrant status), which earned Amer the distinction of being the first Arab American to star in a nationally televised comedy special. He was cast as a recurring character in “Ramy,” the Hulu sitcom starring Egyptian comedian Ramy Youssef, and appeared in the DC Comics superhero film “Black Adam” with Hayward native Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Most significantly, he created and stars in the autobiographical Netflix sitcom “Mo,” which is based on his life as an immigrant and emerging entertainer in Houston.

Amer’s standup career is still going strong, however, and he’ll be performing at San Jose Improv through the New Year’s Eve weekend. Shows are 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Friday, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 7 and 10:30 p.m. Sunday (New Year’s Eve); tickets are $35-$95; go to 

The Boston-based Dresden Dolls bring their edgy punk cabaret show to the UC Theatre in Berkeley on New Year’s Eve. (Courtesy The Dresden Dolls)

The divine Dolls: The line on their website says it all: The Dolls are back! Truth is, they’ve never been away but any suggestion that the unique performance act that is The Dresden Dolls — aka drummer Brian Viglione and singer/songwriter/pianist Amanda Palmer — are back and hitting the theaters and nightclubs is joyous news indeed for their legion of loyal fans.

Describing their show as a “Brechtian punk cabaret,” the Dresden Dolls deliver a one-of-a-kind, edgy, cathartic show full of music, theater, politics, humor and unabashed strangeness. They list their musical influences as ranging from The Doors to Black Sabbath to Nina Simone, but the point is they don’t sound or look like anyone else. The duo got its start in Boston in 2000 and has three albums to its claim, 2003’s eponymous debut, 2006’s “Yes, Virginia” and 2008’s “No, Virginia.” But it is the live shows that have earned the Dresden Dolls their near-legendary status as an act that has been described as simultaneously unsettling and utterly accessible.

Given the demanding nature of their live show, and that Viglione and Palmer are each talented in their own right (he’s done drumming stints with Nine Inch Nails and Violent Femmes; she’s authored a book that’s an exhaustive chronicling of the Dolls’ work and philosophy, and cowrote a musical, “The Onion Cellar,” drawn from the duo’s music), it’s understandable that the Dolls have occasionally gone on hiatus and maintained an inconsistent performing schedule. Now on tour, the pair now lands at the UC Theatre in Berkeley for a New Year’s Eve show. What’s in store is anyone’s guess and that’s the fun.

The performance starts at 9 p.m. (doors open at 8 p.m.) and is general admission, with limited seated tickets available. Tickets are $100. Go to

Bay Area clown/entertainer Unique Derique brings his silly family-friendly show “Fool La La: Holiday Gift” to the Marsh Berkeley Dec. 27-20. (Photo courtesy Eric Carmichael/Unique Derique)

The clown prince returns: What can parents do with their kids for fun during the holiday break? Yes, there are family-friendly animated movies like “Migration,” about ducks on an adventure, looking to quack up a handsome box office at movieplexes (the reviews are so-so). But we think a more fun idea would be to take in the comedy show “Fool La La: Holiday Gift” starring Bay Area clown-entertainer Unique Derique.

Every year around this time, Unique Derique (undoubtedly aware of the need for this sort of family entertainment) brings his show to The Marsh. It’s chock full of fun. The 75-minute audience-participation show (with an intermission) serves up Unique Derique’s one-of-a-kind blend of juggling and circus acts, goofy jokes and storytelling, and hamboning, a lively form of body percussion that is a specialty of the performer.

Following the show, there is a COVID-safe workshop on juggling and hamboning. Performances are at 1 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at The Marsh Berkeley.

Tickets are $15-$35, $10 for kids ages 3-12, and the show can be live-streamed for $20. Go to

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