Hallelujah! The fall theater season is shaping up to be so divine that the eagerly awaited return of the "The Book of Mormon" almost didn't make the cut for this top five list.

Broadway buffs have much to thanks the gods for. From Diane Paulus' controversial revival of the Gershwin classic "Porgy & Bess" to the out-of-town tryouts of "One Night with Janis Joplin" and "Beautiful: The Carole King musical," hot tickets abound for musical theater mavens. In the case of "Joplin" and "Beautiful," the Bay Area also gets the bragging rights of seeing hot new musicals before they head to the Great White Way.

Devotees of the straight play, meanwhile, will doubtless be enchanted by the impish fairy tale charmer "Peter and the Starcatcher" and Christopher Durang's acclaimed fantasia on Chekhovian themes "Vanya & Sonya & Masha & Spike." Cirque du Soleil addicts will also delight that Paulus' high-flying "Amaluna" will be swinging into San Francisco (and San Jose next year).

Keep in mind that some plays will sell out in a blink (read: "Book of Mormon"), so the time to make plans is now. Here's a cheatsheet on five of the most heavenly shows this fall (plus a bonus pick):


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  • "Vanya & Sonya & Masha & Spike": Legendary off-Broadway prankster Christopher Durang ("Beyond Therapy," "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You") nabbed the Tony for best play with this outrageously metatheatrical Chekhov mashup. It's a witty commentary on angst, lust and regret that nails the anxieties of the postmodern age. Meet a family where everyone is named after Chekhovian characters, except the prophetic maid Cassandra (natch). Richard E.T.
    White directs the highly anticipated regional premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Sept. 20-Oct. 20, Berkeley Rep theater complex, 2025 Addison St. $29-$89, 510-647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org

  • "Peter and the Starcatcher": This is one trip to Neverland, a witty prequel to "Peter Pan," that you won't soon forget. A small band of actors skips through more than 100 roles in a wildly inventive homage to stagecraft. Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, this winner of five Tony Awards flies into San Francisco's Curran Theatre. Nov. 5-Dec. 1. Single-ticket prices still to be announced, 888-746-1799. www.shnsf.com

    Cirque du Soleil brings its new production, "Amaluna," to the Bay Area with stops in San Francisco in November and San Jose in JanuaryPhoto:
    Cirque du Soleil brings its new production, "Amaluna," to the Bay Area with stops in San Francisco in November and San Jose in January Photo: Cirque du Soleil (Photo: Cirque du Soleil)

  • "Porgy & Bess": Catfish Row is reborn for a new generation. Visionary director Diane Paulus, heralded for her revivals of "Hair" and "Pippin," raised eyebrows with this courageous reinvention of the 1935 Gershwin classic. Collaborating with Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks ("Topdog/Underdog"), the director tasked herself with "excavating and shaping and modernizing the story and particularly Bess." Nov. 10-Dec. 8, San Francisco's Golden Gate Theatre. Single-ticket prices still to be announced, 888-746-1799, www.shnsf.com

  • "Amaluna": Paulus, fresh from her Broadway triumph with "Pippin," runs off to join Cirque du Soleil for this fantasia on the female essence. Framed by the French Canadian troupe's signature head-spinning visuals, "Amaluna" celebrates the goddess within. Cirque pitches its signature blue-and-yellow tent at San Francisco's AT&T Park on Nov. 15 before heading down to San Jose's Taylor Street Bridge on Jan. 22. $55-$270, www.cirquedusoleil.com

  • "The Book of Mormon": The uber blockbuster from the creators of "South Park" returns. This insanely politically incorrect musical comedy, which pokes fun at religion, Broadway and other tribal cultures, sold out within hours last time around. Top ticket prices zoomed up to $900 last year, so speed is of the essence if you want a piece of the action. Nov. 27-Jan. 19, San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre. Single-ticket prices still to be announced, 888-746-1799, www.shnsf.com

  • "One Night With Janis Joplin": The Queen of Rock lives again in this high-octane theatrical celebration of the musical legacy of the iconic '60s chanteuse. San Jose Rep hosts this bluesy jukebox homage before it heads to Broadway. Sept. 5-29, San Jose Rep. $28-$79, 408-367-7255, www.sjrep.com. Honorable mention in the out-of-town tryout category goes to "Beautiful: The Carole King musical," a celebration of the folk singer/songwriter in its pre-Broadway bow at San Francisco's Curran Theatre Sept. 24-Oct. 20. www.shnsf.com.

    Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza and follow her at www.twitter.com/KarenDSouza4.