Best Bets: ‘Unpacking in P-Town,’ sensory symphony, West Edge Opera

The Golden Gate Park Bandshell returns to action this week as San Francisco kicks off a new concert series. (San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department)

Freebie of the week: The iconic Golden Gate Park Bandshell—aka the Spreckels Temple of Music—was constructed as part of a major San Francisco exposition more than 120 years ago. So, it’s no surprise that the stately venue, a gift to the city from industrialist Claus Spreckels, is going to require a little fixing from time to time. The bandshell—one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country—has been closed for renovations for nearly a year. It springs back to action this weekend as the host of a 125-show free concert series that runs into November. (The series started on Golden Gate Park’s 150th anniversary in 2020, when the bandshell and surrounding facilities received a $1 million renovation that upgraded the stage, sound and lighting systems.)

Organized by the city Recreation and Parks Department and Illuminate, a nonprofit supporting public art, the Illuminate Live series kicks off from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday with a concert headlined by Berkeley-based indie soul-pop band Cardboard People. Also on the bill are San Francisco singer-songwriter-rapper Jane the Message and DJ NObe.

The extensive schedule of free tunes follows a theme: singer-songwriters from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays; a 4:30-to-7:30 p.m. “happy hour” on Fridays, and reggae from 4:20 to 7:30 p.m. Sundays. More shows will be added, such as this Saturday, when Bryan Dyer, Teacher Barb and the Musicmakers, and others take the stage from noon to 4 p.m. In all, acts representing rock, R&B, soul, jazz and big band, funk, and more are slated to appear. In March, Women’s History Month, the lineup will focus on female or female-fronted acts. For more information and the full schedule, go to 

L-R, Smuin dancers Rodolphe Cassand as Zorro and Shannon Hurlburt as Emilio are pictured in a 2003 performance of “Zorro!” The piece is on the program of Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s “Celebrating Michael Smuin” onstage Feb. 29 to March 3. (Courtesy Tom Hauck)

Smuin looks back: Smuin Contemporary Ballet has been delighting Bay Area dance fans for three decades with its unique blend of modern and traditional works that display an exhilarating athleticism and a spirited sense of storytelling that ranges from somber to silly to sexy. Few companies display such a love and fondness for performing, and for the stories they are telling, as Smuin does. It’s part of the company’s enduring charm and a reason why its established works are as eagerly greeted as its world premieres.

This week, as part of Smuin’s 30th anniversary celebration, the company is dusting off two popular works by company founder, the late Michael Smuin, in performances running through Sunday. “Zorro!” centers on a young movie theater usher who dreams of becoming the titular swashbuckling masked hero. The work, set to music by Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer Charles Fox, incorporates special fighting and swordplay choreography created by fencer Richard Lane. For those keeping score, Smuin hasn’t performed the piece since 2006. Also on the bill is an homage to Frank Sinatra, “Fly Me to the Moon,” first performed 20 years ago. The wide-ranging and evocative work is set to some of the celebrated crooner’s best-loved (and mostly upbeat) hits, including the titular tune, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “I Won’t Dance,” “That’s Life” and “New York, New York.”  

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$99; go to

From left, Desiree Rogers, Shawn J West, Matt Weimer, Stephen Kanaski and Awele star in New Conservatory Theatre Center’s “Unpacking in P-Town.” (Courtesy Lois Tema/New Conservatory Theatre)

From Provincetown, with love: The push in some areas to restrict and retrench rights of members of the LGBTQ community is a sad reminder that certain people have throughout history been attacked and punished for wanting to express an identity or pursue a lifestyle that doesn’t jibe with society’s conservative elements. Another aspect of this history is at the center of “Unpacking in P-Town,” a world premiere play opening this week at the New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco.

Jewelle Gomez’s work centers on four former vaudevillian performers making their annual trip to Provincetown to enjoy fun and sun in the East Coast’s queer summer capital. But it’s 1959 and civil rights battles are taking off, and for Buster, Lydia, Minty, and Scottie, the times are a changin’, complicating their vacation plans. Gomez’s work is the third part of a trilogy (following “Waiting for Giovanni,” about author James Baldwin, and “Leaving the Blues” about singer-activist Alberta Hunter) looking at artists during pivotal periods of LGBTQ and civil rights history. “Leaving the Blues” also got its world premiere at New Conservatory.

“Unpacking in P-Town” plays in previews Friday through Sunday; the main run is March 6-31. The performances are at New Conservatory Theatre, 25 Van Ness Ave. Tickets are $20-$48 at 

L-R, Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, perfumer Mathilde Laurent, and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen have collaborated on a multisensory experience for this weekend’s San Francisco Symphony concerts. (Courtesy Mynxii White)

Let the synesthesia seize ya: All our senses are designed to be engaged in this weekend’s San Francisco Symphony concert programs, with music director Esa-Pekka Salonen collaborating with French pianist Jean Yves-Thibaudet and the House of Cartier perfumer Mathilde Laurent to present a performance of Alexander Scriabin’s “Prometheus, The Poem of Fire” that will incorporate lights, video, music and wafts of scent drifting through Davies concert hall. You can pack taste into the multisensory experience as well, if you avail yourself of one of the specialty cocktails at the lobby bar created for the occasion.

Also on the program, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, is the blood-soaked fairy tale from Béla Bartók, “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle,” with soloists Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano, and bass-baritone Gerald Finley. Find tickets, $39-$169, at or call (415) 864-6000. 

West Edge Opera’s singers for its Snapshot 2024 presentation include, top row, L-R: Hovia Edwards, Katy Pracht, Damiel Cilli and Molly Mahoney; bottom, L-R: Rayna Campbell, Wilford Kelly and Sergio Gonzalez. (Courtesy West Edge Opera)

Sneak peeks: West Edge Opera is presenting its eighth incarnation of a unique event, this one labeled Snapshot 2024, twice this weekend – at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Hillside Club in Berkeley and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Taube Atrium Theater in San Francisco.

Working with the Earplay Chamber Ensemble and several singers, the company will present excerpts from four new operas, one after the other. In the lineup are composer Kennedy Verrett and librettist George Kopp’s “Madame Theremin,” based on the life of Lavinia Williams, the Black ballet dancer who married Russian electronic music pioneer Leon Theremin; Matt Boehler and Tony Asaro’s “The Road to Wellville,” inspired by novelist T.C. Boyle’s novel of that name about John Harvey Kellogg’s infamous health spa; composers Hovia Edwards and Justin Ralls’  “Nu Nah-Hup: Sacajawea’s Story,” with the libretto provided by Rose Anne Abrahamson, the great-great-grandniece of the Native American woman who guided the Lewis and Clark expedition; and the first documented work about the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, “Least of My Children,” written by the late composer-librettist team of Loren Linnard and Donald Brigg and rediscovered by Linnard’s son, Dean. Hovia Edwards is also one of the singers; others include Katy Pracht, Daniel Cilli, Molly Mahoney, Rayna Campbell, Wilford Kelly, and Sergio Gonzalez.

General admission tickets, $45, are available at

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