Transcendence (and show tunes!) under Sonoma stars

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The setting for Transcendence Theatre Company’s “Broadway Under the Stars” summer series involves the ruins of a winery and a hillside vineyard in the heart of Sonoma’s spectacular Jack London State Park. Photo by Robbi Pengelly. BELOW CENTER: Beautifully staged, a Transcendence show is as classy as its surroundings. Photo By Ryan Daffurn. BELOW BOTTOM: As the sun sets, the show tunes light the night with lively choreography and stunning performances by a Broadway-caliber cast. Photo by Ray Mabry.

“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
― Jack London

Those words took on special meaning when uttered at the start of One Singular Sensation, the first of this summer’s three Broadway Under the Stars shows from Transcendence Theatre Company in residence for a third summer at Jack London State Park.

The setting for the shows couldn’t be more beautiful. The audience is seated in the ruins of a winery, and behind the stage, just beyond the crumbling stone wall, are rolling Sonoma hills, trees toward the top and grapevines climbing in orderly rows along the sides.

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Fans of Broadway musicals and show music take note: you do not want to miss the work of Transcendence Theatre Company. If you worry about musical revues coming off like slick cruise ship shlock, worry not. This is a top-tier professional company in which the large, extravagantly talented troupers boast a bevy of Broadway and national tour credits. Direction, choreography and musical direction are all sharp, unadorned and focused on pure, energizing entertainment.

As thrilling as the performances are, I would also say that you don’t necessarily have to be a Broadway fan to have a grand time at a Transcendence event. The whole experience, from the drive to Jack London State Park (a gem of a state park full of history, hiking trails and a 2,000-year-old redwood) to the pre-show wine and food bacchanalia, it’s all part what could (and should) be a great Bay Area outdoor theater tradition.

And then there’s the show itself, essentially two-plus hours of shimmering Broadway songs and dances culled from classic and contemporary musicals performed by artists who seem to be thriving on the spotlight and the sultry Sonoma nights. The show begins just before sunset, and by the beginning of Act 2, night has kicked in, with the moon and stars giving the show’s colorful lighting design some stiff competition.

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The first show of the season, One Singular Sensation, which closed last Saturday (July 5), featured, among other highlights, “Fugue for Tinhorns” from Guys and Dolls performed by three cowboys on real live horses and then dazzled with too many showstoppers to enumerate, but here are a few:

  • Sonoma native Lexy Fridell delivering a one-woman musical comedy in the form of the song “The Girl in 14G.”
  • A trio of Adam Halpin, James D. Sasser and Stephan Stubbins turning Sondheim’s well-worn “Being Alive” into something dazzlingly fresh
  • Fridell (again) and the charming Scott Barnhardt finding every laugh in “The Song That Goes Like This” from Spalmalot
  • The company performing a medley of TV theme songs that made the audience so giddy with delight it had to be experienced to be believed.

In short, One Singular Sensation was sensational. Kudos to director Melissa Giattino, musical director Benjamin Rauhala and choreographer Molly Alvarez (with Amanda Lehman, Dylan Smith and Kurt Domoney) for creating destination theater worthy of whatever journey it takes to get there.

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Transcendence Theatre Company’s “Broadway Under the Stars” series continues with Fantastical Family Night July 25 and 26; The Music of the Night Aug. 14-24 and a Gala Celebration Sept. 5 and 6. Transcendence also presents its “Artist Series” with Lexy Fridell in Brace Yourself July 12 and 13; Carrie Manolakos and Morgan Karr in concert Aug. 1 and 2; Steppin’ Out Live! with Ben Vereen Aug. 9; Witness Uganda Aug. 19; Leah Sprecher and Stephan Stubbins in Oh What a Beautiful Mashup Aug. 28. Call 877-424-1414 or visit

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