Robert McClure and Kelli Sawyer in Avenue Q
(© Carol Rosegg)
Robert McClure and Kelli Sawyer in Avenue Q
(© Carol Rosegg)
Despite a cast armed with fuzzy puppets reminiscent of Sesame Street, the Tony Award-winning Broadway smash Avenue Q (Orpheum Theatre, August 7-September 2) isn't exactly for kids. Using risqué songs like "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and "The Internet is for Porn," the musical tells the story of Princeton, a college grad with big dreams of making it big in New York City who ends living with a gallery of neighbors with interesting quirks, opinions, and tales to tell. This is the official first stop on the show's year-long national tour!

There are workshops, and then there are workshops. Cross-dresser extraordinaire Eddie Izzard -- whose credits include his Emmy Award-winning solo show Dress to Kill and a starring role in the FX television series, The Riches -- presents his aptly titled Work in Progress at the Marine's Memorial Theatre (August 5 and 6). Meanwhile, over at the Magic Theatre, the inimitable Joan Rivers treats audiences to a staged reading of The Joan Rivers Theatre Project, co-authored with Doug Bernstein and Denis Markell (August 21-September 2). This autobiographical comedy takes place in a dressing room just before Hollywood's biggest award show, and the Red Carpet fixture must muster all her considerable strength and sass to make it through another year.

Also in testing mode is the American Conservatory Theater which teams up with National Center for New Plays at Stanford University for its First Look Reading Series (August 17-19). Now in its second year, the series includes Academy Award-nominee José Rivera's Brainpeople, the dark and sinister story of three women coping in a violent apocalyptic future; Higher, by ACT artistic director Carey Perloff, a fast-paced comedy about two architects in competition to make history by winning a bid to build a historic commission in the Holy Land; and Dani Girl, a new musical by Christopher Dimond and Michael Kooman about a seven-year-old leukemia patient and the whimsical inner workings of her imagination.

Enjoying its Bay Area premiere is Hysteria by Terry Johnson (Aurora Theatre, August 24-September 30), which won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. The play imagines the famed psychoanalyst's ruminations during his impending death, while he encounters a fanatical young woman with a propensity for nudity, Salvador Dali, and surprise run-ins with his physician.

Another treat for Bay Area residents is Blues in the Night, the sultry, sexy musical that's won over audiences on Broadway and in London and now comes to San Francisco's Post Street Theatre (August 7-September 30). Director and author Sheldon Epps uses the music of Benny Goodman, Bessie Smith, and Duke Ellington to elegantly tell the story of one lonely guy and three dazzling females. Maurice Hines, Freda Payne, Carol Woods, and Paulette Ivory are the ultra-talented stars.

Three more high-profile offerings turn up towards the end of the month: TheatreWorks in Palo Alto serves up the world premiere of Paul Gordon's musical Emma, based on the novel by Jane Austen (August 22-September 16); ACT hosts the West Coast premiere of John Doyle's acclaimed production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd (August 30-September 30), starring Judy Kaye and David Hess; and Berkeley Rep launches its season with Les Waters' production of George Bernard Shaw's classic Heartbreak House (August 31-October 14).

Shakespeare fans have a lot of options: The Arclight Repertory Theatre Company stages Measure for Measure at the Theatre on San Pedro Square (August 17-September 2); The Curtain Theatre in Mill Valley presents free Shakespeare in the Park with Twelfth Night (August 4-26); and Shady Shakespeare launches its summer season with two concurrent productions Macbeth (August 10-September 14) and The Tempest (August 17-September 16) at the Sanborn-Skyline County Park in Saratoga.