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29 Must-See Shows in San Diego This Season

A George Balanchine ballet, Carole King a capella, and a Gilbert and Sullivan opera—we’ve rounded up the must-see shows and events starting this fall. See you in the mezzanine!
City Ballet's The Firebird

By Stephanie Thompson

Can’t wait to see Hamilton here in January? For its last show of the summer season, Moonlight Amphitheatre brings us Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first big hit, In the Heights, this month. The story of a vibrant community in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, In the Heights won Tonys for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations.

September 13–30

Back in the ’90s, Johnny Depp charmed film audiences in Benny & Joon with his portrayal of Sam, an eccentric whose silent-comedy-inspired behavior helps him win the heart of Joon, a mentally disturbed woman living with her brother Benny. The Old Globe will premiere its rendition of the story this month.

September 7–October 22

For nearly a decade, the vocal group Sacra/Profana has been blending traditional choral performance with innovative programming, including reimaginings of pop hits by Prince and Maroon 5 and world premieres by contemporary composers. The theme for their ninth season is “Building Bridges,” and the first concert is Re-Covering the Music of Carole King. The first half will feature the singer-songwriter’s hits made famous by other performers; the second half will be a cover of her iconic album Tapestry, with the group’s singers as instrumentalists and vocalists.

September 23–24

29 Must-See Shows in San Diego This Season

29 Must-See Shows in San Diego This Season

Trolley Dances

When Elton John set to music the story of Billy Elliot, an 11-year-old boy from England’s coal country who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, the theater world went nuts, with 10 Tonys to prove it. Now San Diego Musical Theatre is partnering with California Ballet to bring Billy Elliot to the Spreckels Theatre.

September 22–October 8

The Trolley Dances are back for their 19th year, and this time they’re heading to Chula Vista. Jean Isaacs’ San Diego Dance Theatre sends 50 intrepid dancers onto mass transit to perform site-specific dances with all-new choreography. Find them on the MTS Blue Line from Chula Vista to downtown over two weekends.

September 30–October 8

The big news at La Jolla Playhouse this year is that its acclaimed Without Walls (WoW) Festival is moving downtown under new festival director Meiyin Wang. Performances will take place all over downtown San Diego and in surrounding areas, including The New Children’s Museum and Border X Brewing in Barrio Logan.

October 1–22

Our San Diego Symphony keeps rolling out lush seasons, exploring everything from the great classical works to world music and chamber pieces. This season is no exception. A standout: French piano virtuoso Jean-Yves Thibaudet returns with both a Masterworks concert led by Edo de Waart, featuring selections by Wagner, Liszt, and Strauss, and a more intimate afternoon performance as part of the Chamber Music Series.

October 6–8

29 Must-See Shows in San Diego This Season

29 Must-See Shows in San Diego This Season

San Diego Opera’s Pirates of Penzance

San Diego Opera’s making Gilbert and Sullivan fans happy by starting its season with the popular Pirates of Penzance. The company has pulled off a casting coup with three members of opera aristocracy in the main roles—bass Greer Grimsley as the Pirate King; with his real-life wife, mezzo Luretta Bybee, as Ruth; and their daughter, rising soprano Emma Grimsley, as Mabel. The elder Grimsley has been a local audience favorite for many years in traditional bad-guy bass-baritone roles, so watch him let his (glorious) hair down as the Pirate King.

October 14–22

Bach Collegium San Diego’s 15th season kicks off with the concert version of Handel’s Acis and Galatea, the Messiah composer’s first dramatic work in English, dating from 1718. Drawing from Greek mythology, the work portrays the love affair between the nymph Galatea and the shepherd Acis, whose reunion is thwarted by the monster Polyphemus. The music is dramatic and gorgeous.

October 20–21

29 Must-See Shows in San Diego This Season

29 Must-See Shows in San Diego This Season

Bach Collegium’s Acis and Galatea

When a show is described as “Sesame Street meets The Exorcist,” we’re intrigued. This fall the San Diego Rep’s Sam Woodhouse directs Hand to God, a dark comedy about Tyrone, a hand puppet who comes to life and possesses the arm of a Texas church youth group member. Considering the explicit language advisory, this show is not for the kiddies, but if it’s half as funny as Avenue Q, we’re in.

October 19–November 12

The city’s most artistically accomplished ballet company, City Ballet of San Diego, celebrates its 25th anniversary this season. With George Balanchine’s Serenade on the program of the season opener, as well as Peter Martins’s Ash, Stravinsky’s The Firebird, and Samuel Barber’s gorgeous Adagio for Strings—the latter two choreographed by City Ballet’s own Elizabeth Wistrich—plus live orchestral accompaniment, we’re pegging this as our top dance pick of the fall.

November 3–5

The small but feisty Bodhi Tree Concerts won “Best of the Fest” at this summer’s San Diego Fringe Festival for 8 Songs for a Mad King. This fall the group, which donates 100 percent of its profits to relevant charities, brings back a show it premiered last year to rave reviews. All Is Calm tells the story of the Christmas Truce of World War I through a cappella songs and letters, performed at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park in conjunction with a special exhibition.

November 17–19

We’re intrigued by Fly By Night, which will have its San Diego premiere at the Coronado Playhouse this fall. It’s being called a “metaphysical musical” with a rock-inspired score that’s about a sandwich maker, two entrancing sisters, young love, and the invisible universe that connects us all. We think it’ll be worth a drive across the big blue bridge.

November 10–December 10

This fall, UC San Diego’s ArtPower brings back fan fave David Sedaris, the celebrated humorist and author. Also on our radar is the San Diego premiere of Yemen Blues, blending traditional Yemenite melodies with funk, blues, and jazz. Check out all of this season’s eclectic programming on the website.

November 9 and 16

29 Must-See Shows in San Diego This Season

29 Must-See Shows in San Diego This Season

David Hartig

And in 2018…

  • Hamilton finally conquers San Diego in January…
  • Ástor Piazzolla thrills tango aficionados with Maria de Buenos Aires at San Diego Opera in January…
  • Violin superstar Pinchas Zukerman plays Tchaikovsky at the San Diego Symphony in February…
  • Brooklyn-based Sudanese singer Alsarah breaks cultural and linguistic barriers with her East African retro-pop band the Nubatones at ArtPower in February…
  • No one’s putting Baby in the corner when Dirty Dancing the musical arrives in February…
  • Guest conductor Scott Allen Jarrett leads Bach Collegium San Diego through Soundscape: Musical Architects of the Baroque in March…
  • The Australian sensation Ten Tenors is touring Wish You Were Here, celebrating musical legends including Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, and more, in March…
  • Audiences decide how the show will go in the immersive theatre experience Beachtown at the Lyceum Space in March and April…
  • California Ballet dances back into the Jazz Age with Septime Webre’s setting of The Great Gatsby in April…
  • Jahja Ling returns to lead Behzod Abduraimov and the San Diego Symphony in the Rach 3 in April…
  • Local jazz treasure Gilbert Castellanos and friends perform every track of Miles Davis’s classic 1959 album Kind of Blue in April…
  • The Old Globe’s world premiere of The Wanderers lands in April and May…
  • Don’t miss the legendary Manhattan Transfer in March and a special concert featuring Audra McDonald in May, both at the symphony…
  • Classic film fans will flip over Luscious Noise performing John Luther Adams’s In the White Silence live to accompany the 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc in May…
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, adapted from the novel by Khaled Hosseini, gets its Southern California premiere at The Old Globe in May…

…and then it’s time for the summer festival and concert announcements!

29 Must-See Shows in San Diego This Season

City Ballet’s The Firebird

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