The next stage

Maybe it’s because of Iraq, or the upcoming elections. Whatever the reason, San Francisco’s fall theater season promises to be full of war, struggle and lots of terrific music. From the award-burdened “Doubt” to the razzamatazz “Chicago,” area theater lovers of all ages have no shortage of reasons to fill the seats.

Broadway’s much-garlanded “Doubt” comes to the Curran Theatre, and retains its Tony Award-winning star Cherry Jones in the role of a 1964 Catholic school principal who suspects a priest of sexual misconduct. This compact play derives its power from the questions — which is to say, the doubt — it leaves in audience members’ minds. (Curran Theatre, www.shnsf.com, opens Nov. 7.)

For those in search of lighter fare than war and abuse, there’s more than “A Little Bit of Good” in the adultery, murder and deception of the jazzily scored and rightfully popular “Chicago.” The show — which came to a wider audience thanks to the Oscar-winning 2002 film adaptation — tells the story of an aspiring actress named Roxie who finds fame only after, well, knocking somebody off. That’s 1920s Chicago for you. Lots of big song and dance numbers, and starring rock ’n’ roll hitmeister Huey Lewis. (Orpheum Theatre, www.shnsf.com, opens Oct. 24.)

There’s more musical exuberance on stage at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, which stages its annual production of “Black Nativity,” as inspired by Langston Hughes’ 1961 Christmas show of the same name. The Hansberry Theatre keeps the show new for local audiences by adding different songs, poems and dances each year, and always fulfills its promise to feature the Bay Area’s top gospel talent. (Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, www.lorrainehansberrytheatre.com, opens Nov. 24.)

Pleasure for the ears doesn’t

stop there. Two of the Bay Area’s favoritewordsmiths also are being produced this fall. Anyone who has ever drawn up the guest list for their fantasy dinner party should see American Conservatory Theater’s season-opening production of Tom Stoppard’s 1974 Tony Award-winning comedy “Travesties.” The play hilariously throws together James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin and Dada artist Tristan Tzara in World War I-era Zürich. Expect a healthy helping of Dada’s topsy-turvy sensibility, and Stoppard’s comic genius. (American Conservatory Theatre, http://act-sf.org, opens Sept. 14.)

The Magic Theatre opens its 40th season with the Bay Area premiere of Sam Shepard’s “The God of Hell,” which the playwright himself called “a takeoff on Republican fascism.” With Shepard’s inimitable blend of polemics and unsparing comedy, a Wisconsin couple gets an upsetting visit from a government official. The play premiered off-Broadway in October 2004, not long before another election. (Magic Theatre, www.magictheatre.org, opens Sept. 23.)

The 2006-07 season is off to a strong start with these and other fall offerings. Increasingly, San Francisco is known for its smart, appreciative audiences — making it a key stop for touring productions of Broadway favorites, as well as a prime spot to nurture new work and challenging revivals. It’s a fair trade. We give them great audiences, they give us great theater.

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