by Jim Gladstone
The outdoor theater season is hitting its peak from coast-to-coast, with Troilus and Cressida at the Delacorte in Central Park, Macbeth at the Old Globe in San Diego, The Wiz in Ashland, Oregon, and the largest, oldest outdoor theater in the country—St. Louis’ MUNY—marching out the summery standards of The Music Man in a new production featuring Broadway favorites Hunter Foster and Mark Linn-Baker.
But perhaps the most enchanting setting of all for stagecraft under the stars—not least of all due to its under-the-radar profile nationally—is Sonoma County, California. On the grounds of the Jack London State Historic Park—where the author once lived and is now buried—crumbled stone walls of a one-time winery form the perimeter of an intimate open-air venue, brought to life for each of the past five summers by Transcendence Theatre Company’s “Broadway Under the Stars” series.
Elegantly choreographed, smartly costumed, and accompanied by a remarkably smooth house band, Transcendence’s pieces are fully focused on voice and movement. The lack of scenic embellishments and special effects lets audiences soak in the stunning natural visuals as the summer sun sinks behind the rolling California hills, trees and vines burnished in the fading light.
Transcendence, founded by artistic Amy Miller, an accomplished and well-networked stage and film actress, has been able to attract first-rate Broadway gypsies and regional theater performers to spend summer seasons crafting and performing cleverly constructed amalgams of theater and pop music. The casts for this summer’s shows includes veterans of the recent Broadway productions of Wicked, Les Misérables, Mary Poppins, and Mamma Mia.
This Magic Moment, the 2016 season’s first production was typical of the company’s breezy but captivating revue format, somehow managing to work an impeccably sung medley of Adele hits (gutsy move) into the same show that incorporates numbers from Grease, Cabaret, and A Chorus Line.
It’s appropriately escapist fare for audiences likely to have spent the day hiking the park’s impressive network of trails or visiting nearby wineries, several which are major funders of the non-profit Transcendence (A smart move, since a lack of evening activity— other than dining—has been wine country’s most significant deficit as a tourist destination).
For summertime visitors to Sonoma County, a Transcendence performance will bring a bright, bubbly finish to a day of northern California wine tasting.
Fantastical Family Night
The student performers from the company’s summer camp program join the Transcendence cast.
Dance the Night Away
August 5 – 21 (Friday through Sunday nights)
Song and dance inspired by Broadway’s most famous choreographers and contemporary pop hits.
Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.