The Best Events, Shows, and Things to Do in Boston All Fall

Everything you need to do and see this season.

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 at the American Repertory Theater. / Photo by Joan Marcus

See history in a new light.

Anna Deavere Smith has been a force in American theater for decades, thanks to her one-woman plays that examine critical moments in modern America through documentary-style interviews. From August 28 through September 23, the American Repertory Theater welcomes her back with an older work called Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, about the acquittal of the police officers in Rodney King’s police brutality case and the civil unrest that ensued. Based on more than 350 interviews, it’s a comprehensive work, and now this new production expands the cast to five actors, bringing home themes that are still relevant today.

President Barack Obama, by Kehinde Wiley. / 2018 Kehinde Wiley/Image Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery/Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Obamas Come to Town

From the very moment in February 2018 that the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery unveiled the official portraits of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, the paintings by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald became superstars in their own right. After millions of visitors broke attendance records at the DC museum, the portraits went on a rock-star-style tour, breaking records around the country, too. Now they’ve arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts—the final stop on the tour—from September 3 through October 30, with limited-capacity, timed-entry tickets.

Of course, the Obama portraits are popular not only for their A-list celebrity status; they’re also historically and artistically significant, highlighting the first Black president and first lady in American history as well as two Black artists who represent the crucial diversification of the contemporary scene. And the results are glorious, with Barack suspended in a canopy of green leaves and Michelle in a white patterned dress against an azure backdrop. Both portraits are stylized, vibrant, and radiate their subjects’ confidence and thoughtfulness—a refreshing break from the past, as the MFA’s chair of contemporary art Reto Thüring points out. “I do think that the tradition of presidential portraits is a rather dull one, with very few contributing to the history of portraiture in painting,” he says. “These really stand out in such a productive way, in line with Barack Obama’s presidency. He broke ground in so many ways and opened a window into the future for what might be possible.”

First Lady Michelle Obama, by Amy Sherald / Image Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery/Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

But the MFA won’t leave the Obamas by themselves. Thüring and staff decided to create an adjacent exhibit called “Portraits of Leadership,” a community art project that involved asking members of the public to submit artworks representing leaders in their lives. The subjects have included teachers, parents, and coaches, by inspired amateurs ranging from young children to a 102-year-old woman. Thüring estimates that a few thousand portraits will come in, and promises to exhibit all of them on huge gallery walls, with this quilt of humanity providing a broader context for the first couple down the hall. “I hope that the Portraits of Leadership will contextualize the Obama portraits, and make them more approachable, make you think where they came from,” he says. “They were once community
activists, and for any one person, there’s a track they follow to become something, and this is part of an effort to trace that journey.”

Welcome one of the Fab Four.

If you missed out on the Paul McCartney shows at Fenway Park this summer, never fear; you still have the chance to catch a Beatle in action. On September 5, Tanglewood closes out its season with Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band. Of course, you can expect the drummer to break out songs by his old band, but the members of his backup supergroup also boast some killer tracks, so keep an ear out for hits from hard-rock legend Edgar Winter, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Men at Work lead man Colin Hay, and Hamish Stuart of the Average White Band.

Browsing the Boston Arts Festival

Bring home a masterpiece.

On September 10 and 11, Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park will once again fill up with the sights and sounds of the best crafts and music the Boston area has to offer. Organized by the Beacon Hill Art Walk and the Artists Crossing Gallery, this year’s Boston Arts Festival welcomes more than 70 carefully selected visual artists and craftspeople selling their paintings, ceramics, jewelry, and other works amid sun, sea breezes, and songs both acoustic and electric from local tunesmiths.

Lizzo takes the stage at TD Garden in September. / Photo courtesy of Live Nation

Get ready to dance.

After three years, you could say it was about damn time that superstar singer, rapper, and flutist Lizzo put out a new album. Not surprisingly, she had the release of the summer with her latest LP Special. She’d also have the hands-down hottest single of the year with “About Damn Time” if she didn’t have competition from the sunny, funky “Big Energy” by sassy upstart Latto. Thankfully, fans won’t have to choose between the two, as they’re performing together at the TD Garden on September 30.

Crank up the stereo with local legends.

September 30 is shaping up to be a banner release day for fans of Boston’s most revered rock bands. Dropkick Murphys are out with their new album, This Machine Still Kills Fascists, which, like their iconic anthem “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” is based on unused lyrics by the folk legend Woody Guthrie. Just as loud, but maybe even weirder, is Doggerel by postpunk giants Pixies, recorded in the snows of Guilford, Vermont, and featuring the band’s trademark thorny yet melodic tunes.;

Photo via Penguin Random House

Take a break from Netflix with a good read.

Cambridge’s Celeste Ng notched a massive hit with her 2017 novel turned TV miniseries Little Fires Everywhere, and now it’s time for her long-awaited follow-up. Out October 4, Our Missing Hearts is a brooding fable for our times set in a dystopian version of America where authors deemed unpatriotic are banned and their children relocated. Ng’s tale follows a 12-year-old Chinese-American boy living with his Harvard-employed father. After receiving a mysterious letter, he goes on a quest to find his missing mother, a blacklisted poet who vanished from the family years ago.

Tar Beach #2 by Faith Ringgold at the ICA. / Photo courtesy of the artist and ACA Galleries, New York/Faith Ringgold/Artists Rights Society, New York

Embrace your inner kid.

If there’s one experience that binds all of us on this planet, it’s childhood, even if that experience varies from culture to culture. In that spirit, the Institute of Contemporary Art is hosting “To Begin Again: Artists and Childhood,” an eclectic survey that runs from October 6 through February 26, 2023. Visitors will see how our littlest members of society are depicted by some 30 artists from around the globe, including legends such as Swiss surrealist Paul Klee and Harlem painter and mixed-media genius Faith Ringgold, as well as a new generation of talents like Colombia’s Oscar Murillo and Nigeria’s Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Brazil’s Milton Nascimento sings his greatest songs on his farewell tour, coming to the Berklee Performance Center. / Photo by Marcos Hermes

See one of the world’s music legends for the last time.

Singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento hails from Brazil, where he’s been turning out some of the most beautiful, unclassifiable records since the late 1960s, with songs that incorporate jazz, rock, and Afro-Brazilian folk. Over time, his angelic voice has led him to international acclaim and collaborations with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Peter Gabriel, and Paul Simon. He received an honorary degree from Berklee in 2016, and now, at age 79, he’s back for one final tour with an October 9 show at the Berklee Performance Center that is not to be missed.

Be overwhelmed by symphonic grandeur.

The name Gustav Mahler has long been synonymous with massive symphonies radiating passion and color, as they take advantage of all the instruments and sounds an orchestra can muster. So, it’s a special occasion to see our world-class Boston Symphony Orchestra perform one in full, especially when conducted by maestro Andris Nelsons, a noted enthusiast of the German composer. For three performances at Symphony Hall, October 20 to 22, Nelsons and his very big band will tackle Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, considered by many to be his greatest.

Bill Irwin / Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography/Courtesy of Arts Emerson

Watch a clown tackle existentialism.

Bill Irwin is one of those actors you know from everywhere, whether he’s playing Mr. Noodle on Elmo’s World, winning multiple Tony Awards for his stage work, or appearing in countless movies and TV shows. He’s also had a long career as a clown and mime, which led him to be the first active performing artist to win a MacArthur “genius” grant. Now, from October 26 to 30, he comes to ArtsEmerson’s Paramount Center to perform On Beckett, which combines absurdist and bleak passages from legendary playwright Samuel Beckett into a mesmerizing one-man show.

Savor the old and new by a master of dance.

When the curtain rises at the Citizens Bank Opera House on As Anticipated, from November 3 to 13, the Boston Ballet will perform its latest show dedicated wholly to the world-acclaimed choreographer William Forsythe. The company scored quite a coup when it announced its partnership with Forsythe back in 2016, and since then, Boston audiences have enjoyed his athletic, abstract, invigorating long and short works, especially his full-length Artifact. Boston Ballet was the first North American troupe to premiere that masterwork, and in this fall’s event, it
will stage a truncated version of it, paired with a brand-new
piece that promises plenty of surprises.

Fragments of the Factory/Unfinished Traces of Labour, a 2020 work by Shelagh Keeley. / Photo courtesy of Shelagh Keeley/Toni Hafkenscheid

Immerse yourself in art.

Ink, crayon, pencil, oil stick—Toronto-based multi-disciplinary artist Shelagh Keeley will use just about any tool to create her wall drawings, so long as it imbues a sure sense of place. The 58-foot-long installation she’s created as the mammoth centerpiece of “Drawn to Place,” an exhibition of her work at the Peabody Essex Museum this fall from November 5 through November 26, 2023, certainly accomplishes that goal: It’s inspired by the PEM’s history, in particular the archives of Edward Sylvester Morse, the esteemed archaeologist and zoologist whose papers and studies are held by the museum’s extensive Phillips Library.

Marriage be damned! King Henry VIII’s doomed but royally fabulous wives take the Emerson Colonial Theatre stage by glittery storm in the Tony Award-winning musical Six. / Photo by Joan Marcus

Boogie down with the queens.

“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” Anyone who has studied British history knows this mnemonic about the debauched King Henry VIII and the harsh fates of his half-dozen wives. And yet when this touring production of the Broadway musical Six comes to the Emerson Colonial Theatre from November 9 through January 15, 2023, the mood will be anything but grim, featuring a full-on glamtastic explosion of pop music, soul divas, and messages of female empowerment. Winner of the Tony Award for best original score, the show features each of the fully glammed-up wives singing their stories in a production that promises to be royally fabulous.

Call in, in person, to your favorite radio host.

It was major local broadcast news this May when Matty Siegel announced his retirement from hosting Kiss 108’s top-rated morning show after 41 years. But that hasn’t stopped the iconic radio celeb from talking and joking with the public, as he continues his stage shows called An Evening with Matty in the Morning, which comes to the Wilbur on November 15 and 16. The best part? Instead of taking calls on the air, Siegel takes questions from the live audience and comments on them with his trademark acerbic wit.

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Twas the Night Before… brings holiday magic to the Boch Center’s Wang Theatre. / Brandon Todd/MSG Entertainment

Put a new spin on an old tradition.

For years, Bostonians have been flocking to the Holiday Pops to watch local celebrities recite the Clement Clarke Moore classic “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Now, a celebrity circus brings its take on the poem to the Boch Center’s Wang Theatre from November 25 through December 11. Cirque du Soleil’s first-ever Christmas production in New England, ’Twas the Night Before…, tells the story of a teenage girl who feels she’s outgrown her father’s insistence on reading her the poem, only to find herself transported to the winter wonderland of its words. Amid acrobatics, lush staging, and fantastical story-telling, it promises to all a good night indeed.

All the World’s a Screen

As the cool of autumn sets in, these six eclectic film festivals promise to heat up local cinemas.

Boston Film Festival

WHEN: September 22–26
WHAT’S ON: Now in its 38th year, the BFF is known for showcasing thought-provoking features and documentaries, many with New England ties. Be on the lookout for big names on the red carpet: Andover’s Jay Leno showed up for an onstage Q&A in 2020.

CineFest Latino Boston Film Festival

WHEN: September 23–October 3
WHAT’S ON: Films and stories from Latin America, Spain, and the Latinx community here in the U.S. Last year’s showings included dramatic narratives and documentaries, including one about theater and film legend Rita Moreno.

GlobeDocs Film Festival

WHEN: October 12–16
WHAT’S ON: As the Boston Globe’s marquee event for nonfiction film, GlobeDocs has a track record of screening high-profile documentaries, including Frederick Wiseman’s much-buzzed-about Boston film City Hall.

Boston Palestine Film Festival

WHEN: October 14–23
WHAT’S ON: Since 2007, the BPFF has shared more than 300 films reflecting the culture of Palestine, as well as the diaspora around the world. Bonus points for the addition of musical and visual artists.

Boston Asian American Film Festival

WHEN: October 20–30
WHAT’S ON: A kaleidoscopic assortment of cinematic explorations, with features, documentaries, animated films, and themed series of short films, such as the event’s annual LGBTQ+ program, “Queer & Here.”

Boston International Kids Film Festival

WHEN: November 18–20
WHAT’S ON: Learn about the future of film from the youngest among us with this event that touts itself as being “for kids, by kids, and about kids.” Expect short films and workshops for children who want to try their hand at cinematography at home.

Rock On!

With the opening of not one but two new marquee venues in Boston, where should you get your music fix this fall? Here’s what you need to know.


The Location: Brighton, under the shadows of the GBH headquarters.

The Layout: 50,000 square feet over two levels, with a capacity of 3,500.

The Lowdown: With a big open floor and generous sightlines that let you always feel close to the band, Roadrunner’s lineup trends towards musicians who are just breaking big or older ones who want to capture some intimacy with their biggest fans, but in a bigger house.

The Highlights: Red-hot U.K, acts like soulful songwriter Arlo Parks (9/14) and raging political rockers Idles (9/17); hitmakers like country star Zach Bryan (9/21) and pop goddess Carly Rae Jepsen (9/26); indie-pop stalwarts like Japanese Breakfast (9/29) and Alvvays (11/18); alt-rock legends like the National (9/22), Stereolab (10/4), and the Smile, featuring Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood (11/16).

MGM Music Hall at Fenway

The Location: Fenway, under the shadows of the Red Sox stands.

The Layout: 91.500 square feet over four levels, with a capacity of 5,009.

The Lowdown: Prefer to sit down while you take in your favorite acts? The MGM Music Hall has a balcony and steep tiered seating, as well as a smaller open floor. Its lineup is thus packed with artists who could fill an arena like the TD Garden but will thrill in a smaller setting.

The Highlights: Megawatt stars like Bruno Mars (9/7, 9/9/ 9/11), Lil Nas X (9/18), and Demi Lovato (10/13); reunited prog-rock giants like the Porcupine Tree (9/14) and the Mars Volta (10/1), and the 50th anniversary tour of metal gods Judas Priest (10/16); postpunk and alt-rock legends like Bauhaus (9/13), the B-52s (9/30), and Arcade Fire, with Beck as a special guest (11/8-11/9).