We're barely out of November, and already the stores are buzzing with holiday cheer -- which too often takes the form of agonizing and repetitive Christmas tunes played on a seemingly endless loop. If you're digging the season, but not the fa-la-las, alternative rock group GrooveLily has an antidote. The band has created a concert-play that riffs on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match-Seller," with a twist. The original tale is about a 19th-century Danish girl who stands on a street corner trying to feed her family by selling magical matches on a cold New Year's Eve. In Striking 12 -- against the backdrop of live vocals, keyboard, electric violin, and drums -- the girl offers mystical light bulbs that can cure the blues of even the biggest humbug. This TheatreWorks production is set to a hip soundscape that combines classical, rock, folk, jazz, and pop. Previews begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and the show continues through Jan. 2, at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield (at Melville), Palo Alto. Tickets are $20-50; call (650) 903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org.
-- Karen Macklin
What do you get when you bring together a stream-of-consciousness writer, an anarchic dadaist poet, and a zealous Bolshevik leader? A brilliant, talky, think-piece of a Tom Stoppard play. The premise of Stoppard's 1974 comedy Travesties springs from the fictionalized recollections of Henry Carr, a minor British official whose life intersects with three major 20th-century figures during World War I: writer James Joyce, poet Tristan Tzara, and revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, all of whom are busily working out their proper wartime roles. They weather world events as they pose existential questions about their part in the goings-on: Is there truly a revolution worth risking one's life for? Is art a necessary component of revolution? What is the value, and danger, of neutrality during wartime? Of course, this is a Stoppard play, so expect verbal gymnastics. It opens at 8 tonight (and runs through Jan. 9) at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley. Admission is free (donations are appreciated); call (510) 841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org.
-- Nirmala Nataraj
Saul Williams makes music, too
Saul Williams' career has been built on constant and swift redefinition. He came into the public eye as an actor and performance poet when his 1998 debut film, Slam, nabbed both the Sundance Festival Grand Jury Prize and the Cannes Camera d'Or. But in the years since, he's worn many other hats just as well: He's a widely published author and essayist, a lecturer, a musician, and a poetry slam star. All told, his multitasking has brought him to stages alongside poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Sonia Sanchez and hip hop acts such as KRS-1, De La Soul, and the Fugees. The current product of his numerous vocations takes a mostly musical form, a self-titled record that sets Williams' rapid-fire preaching to the grind of harsh drum samples and low-rolling bass loops. The opening track, "Talk to Strangers," is something of a bridge between Williams-the-poet of then and Williams-the-rapper of now, ending with a line that might well serve as his mantra: "There's nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come." But when he follows it up with "Grippo," a suspect foray into dancehall reggae that announces, "Hip hop is lying on the sidewalk/ Half dead to itself," it's hard to imagine that Williams himself is the person to revive that genre. Even though the record might not be a monumental addition to the hip hop canon (big beats and heavy metal riffs always make a dicey combination), it is the latest chapter of a monumental career. Thavius Beck aka Adlib opens at 8 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $15; call 885-0750 or visit www.musichallsf.com.
-- Nate Cavalieri
Across the Divide
In the fractious, lethal, and deadlocked debate that separates ardent Zionists from Palestinian champions, there is little middle ground. But in writing an intensely moving memoir about his Jerusalem boyhood that's steeped in the history of his homeland, Amos Oz somehow manages to find the humanity on both sides of the conflict. He discusses his unique autobiography, A Tale of Love and Darkness, with Barbara Lane at 6:30 p.m. at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market (at Second Street), S.F. Admission is $12-18; call 597-6701 or visit www.commonwealthclub.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Bay Area trumpeter Ara Anderson is adored for rock-solid technique, a wild imagination, and low impulse control, especially when playing with his band, Iron & the Albatross. His inspirations range from sea chanteys to pre-TV radio plays. Help him celebrate a new Albatross CD at 4 p.m. at the Atlas Cafe, 3049 20th St. (at Alabama), S.F. Admission is free; call 648-1047 or visit www.araanderson.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser