Go ahead and gloat over the East Bay's geographic superiority over San Francisco. Sure they've got all that weird, edgy, boundary-busting experimental theater in small, enclosed spaces. But have they got three different, equally wonderful outdoor amphitheaters for theater under the stars? With space to picnic and hike before the show? We thought not. If you love redwoods, reflecting pools, and musical theater, this summer you should make a point of checking out the East Bay's oldest outdoor venue, Woodminster Amphitheater, in Oakland's Joaquin Miller State Park and easily reached by car or transit. A WPA project finished in 1940, Woodminster -- nestled in a beautiful second-growth redwood forest -- has been home to Producers Associates and their musical theater series since 1967. Producers Associates holds the distinction of running in the black for 36 years, no small feat for a theater company; they also pride themselves on being a family tradition for Oakland theatergoers, who pass on their season tickets from generation to generation. It's no wonder, with a reliable repertoire of favorites like 1776, Man of La Mancha, and South Pacific -- Producers has cornered the market on the Great American Songbook.
This season at Woodminster opens with Cole Porter and Sam and Bella Spewak brushing up their Shakespeare with Kiss Me Kate, the romp that goes behind the scenes of a modern production of the Bard's Taming of the Shrew. Producers closed their first season at Woodminster with Kate in 1967; this is the first time they've done it since. James and Harriet Schlader, who founded Producers Associates, are both on board for this one as the director and choreographer respectively. In August, Argentina can cry again for Evita, the second show of the season, which has only been done here once before. The season closes with the Woodminster premiere of Singin' in the Rain, based on the beloved 1952 MGM film.
Kiss Me Kate runs July 11-20, Evita runs August 8-17, and Singin' in the Rain runs September 5-14. All shows run Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17-$29, with discounts for groups and seniors. Woodminster also has a "Kids Come Free" program, where kids sixteen or younger can attend free accompanied by a paying adult. Woodminster Amphitheater is located at 3300 Joaquin Miller Road. For information about tickets, call 510-531-9597 or visit Woodminster.com -- Lisa Drostova
Sing like an Egyptian
Giuseppe Verdi's Aïda is one of his best-loved operas, probably because of the Egyptian finery, processions of supernumeraries, and such arias as "Celeste Aïda." You may not see camels and full-size pyramids in Festival Opera's production of the 1871 Italian opera, but the singing cast, which includes mezzo-soprano Lyutsina Kazachenko in the role of Amneris, should light up Walnut Creek's Lesher Regional Center for the Arts. Aïda, under the direction of Harvey Berman, opens Saturday for four performances. See FestivalOpera.com -- Kelly Vance
Of Aphra Behn, Virginia Woolf wrote, "It is she -- shady and amorous as she was -- who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits." The best-known work by Behn, the first professional woman writer in English, was 1677's The Rover , a racy appeal for women's rights that takes place during Italy's Carnival. It will be presented by the all-female Shakespeare Company, Woman's Will, weekends through August 23 in parks throughout the Bay Area. This weekend's performances are at 1 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, at Berkeley's John Hinkel Park, and Saturday at 6 p.m. at Centennial Park in Pleasanton. Call 510-420-0813 or visit WomansWill.org -- Stefanie Kalem
Yes, He May
At seventeen, Ralphie May entered a talent contest and won a gig opening for Sam Kinison. Now May, who's often referred to as "possibly the smartest person to ever come out of Arkansas and easily the funniest" (therefore beating out Bill Clinton), works as a writer and associate producer on ESPN's Mohr Sports, starring Jay Mohr. He performs at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Tommy T's (1655 Willow Pass Rd., Concord). Call 925-686-6809 for information -- Stefanie Kalem
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