Musicals

Transcendence Music and Dance Inspires

Best of Broadway Under the Stars
Review by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Directed by Roy Lightner and Tony Gonzalez
Music Direction by Daniel Weidlein
Choreography by Dylan Smith and Roy Lightner

For tickets / schedule :
www.transcendencetheatre.org
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Transcendence Theatre Company

RUN: March 11-12, 2017
Extended run at Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, March 18-19, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(March 11, 2017)

The Best of Broadway Under the Stars - LBC

Photo by Ray Mabry

After producing theater and music shows for 20 years, I was pleasantly surprised by the music and dance, rhythms and humor of this show. It is a pleasure to experience good productions again that fill the heart with the great energy that transcends the plodding seasons of shows many theaters are providing these days.

Good Broadway musicals leave you singing your favorite songs as you walk out into the real world. Transcendence takes these wonderful songs, and adds new choreography, costumes, singers and energy to them to bring them alive again. It doesn’t hurt to have a 30 foot thrust into the audience to let the performers sing to you up close and personal. It doesn’t hurt to have 25 professional dancers/singers with big stage experience perform singly and in unison with the best material they can find and arrange. Finally, it doesn’t hurt to have a big band play all the music for the show.

The Best of Broadway Under the Stars - LBC

Photo by Ray Mabry

In “Don’t Rain on my Parade”, from Funny Girl, Meggie Cansler sings as she walks downstage with a voice that fills the auditorium with unforgettable sounds and quality that condenses the entire show for us into one song. Follow this with Eric Jackson leading eight men in a signature Fosse jazz arrangement of “Bye Bye Blackbird” that honors the Bob Fosse traditional dance forms while showing us what the flock can do with good dancers.

“I Can Do That”, from A Chorus Line, allows Rachel Thomas a chance to teach an amazing new dancer, Evan Ruggerio, a new tap dance step or two—or is it the other way around? I learned what talent, guts and fortitude can do. Crazy for You gave us “I Got Rhythm”, but with the entire troupe tapping to the music, we get a broad sense of what is possible with this company, and it warms the heart and feet.

Leah Sprecher and Stephan Stubbins do Andrew Lloyd Webber and Les Miserables. Yes, I mean they really do a full medley of both, with irreverent humor and charm.

Forget the strong voices of the two for a minute and focus on the words. Having seen many shows of Mr. Webber and, of course, Les Miserables, I could place all the music. The two sets were amazing, non-stop fun.

Amy Miller, Brad Surosky and Stephan Stubbins are the executive life blood of this company. They started Transcendence as performers who wanted to make a difference in the world. True to form, they continue to dance and sing onstage, appearing as major singers in this show even after five years of guiding the company to new heights. Their dedication to professional quality is obvious.

For large vision music and dancing, the Transcendence Theatre Company is making its presence known in the North Bay. On March 18-19, they journeyed to the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael with a reprise of this show. They return to their Jack London Park summer venue on June 16, 2017, with their “Another Openin’ Another Show!”.

In the Company of Outstanding Talent

Company
Review by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Patrick Nims
Musical direction by Andrew Klein
Choreography by Kate Kenyon

For tickets / schedule :
www.novatotheatercompany.org
Novato Theater Company
Novato, CA

RUN: March 23 to April 16, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(March 26, 2017)

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Company is a surprising show by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth. Written in 1970, the Broadway production won 6 Tony Awards in that year, including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Lyrics and Best Score.

Although this is not my favorite Sondheim show, the quality of this amateur production surprised me. The actors were well defined and their relationships made sense, sometimes all too painfully. This show is the one to see at the Novato Theatre Company this year.

Director Nims sets his sights on telling it like it is, at least as far as the playwright allows. He does not pull many punches with his characterizations, and draws the appropriate emotions out of his cast to add depth to the roles. Sometimes strong and boisterous, sometimes shy and hidden, the couples and singles emerge through the show to break out in the final scenes as people I might know.

The set is simple and functional, but never dull or boring. The background lighting expands the mood shared by the characters in transparent shades of blue through pink. Choreographer Kenyon moves her characters in different groups and ensemble dances smoothly and carefully to really define the space; I appreciate the effective simplicity of her work with these people who are not really dancers, but are actors and singers.

What to do about Robert? Robert Nelson plays the part in understated ways, alternately merging with his friends and pulling out to see what he has become in the process. He is the focus of Company, but rather than being outspoken, he is the counterpoint to other actors to bring out their characters. Perhaps this is why he is the friend to all, while still defining himself. Nelson plays the part well.

Stephen Beecroft and Paula Gianetti become the essence of “blood spilled” on the stage (metaphorically, of course!). They are both experienced actors who can retain their characters in this explosive relationship. They are memorable to watch and enjoy, even if the underlying message has cynical undertones. Gianetti’s rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch” is complete and accurate to the writer’s intent: ironic and hopeless. Beecroft also did an outstanding job with fight choreography.

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Did I say I was surprised by this production? Nicole Thordsen was one major reason. Her rendition of “Getting Married Today” (subtitled “I’m not getting married today”) was just amazing. The staccato words flowed like a Tommy gun over the audience, loud and clear, thanking everyone in the scene but no thanks. I got the picture!

Amanda Morando and Gillian Eichenberger stand out for the quality of their singing and the roles they play. As totally different competitors for Robert’s affections, they show the soft and hard sides of love; could it be that they embody the theme of the story here?

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Good Broadway musicals leave you singing your favorite songs as you walk out into the real world. The cast did a wonderful job presenting the music, but the songs did not stand out to stay with me. Sondheim tries to be unique with his music, writing for each of the many situations that the actors experienced on stage. No musical theme for the show emerged from this variety.

Overall, Company at Novato Theater Company is well done and energetic, with a good cast that is able to develop the many personalities in the script. I can certainly identify with Robert’s reaction to his well-meaning friends at the conclusion.

Invigorating ‘Company’ in Novato

Review of Company
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Patrick Nims
Musical direction by Andrew Klein
Choreography by Kate Kenyon

For tickets / schedule :
www.novatotheatercompany.org
Novato Theater Company
Novato, CA

RUN: March 23 to April 16, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(March 31, 2017)

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Commitment can be a terrifying word when it comes to relationships; is marriage fulfilling or a nightmare? Is there an advantage to staying single, or will you miss out on something special? When Robert reaches 35, he wrestles with the classic dilemma, receiving a plethora of advice from his married friends, from the balance of giving up independence for the sake of being with the person you love, to fear of losing individual identity, and a sound suggestion that it isn’t enough to want marriage in general, it needs to be desired for a specific person instead. Rather than a linear story, he wafts through vignettes of couples that he knows—the fun and wild duo wrestling through their living room, Jenny and David who have little in common and manage to stay together through force of will, and a captivating incident of premarital jitters with Robert as the hapless Best Man. Throughout the evening come echoes of “Bobby, Bobby!” from backstage, constantly harassing him into a relationship.

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Paula Gianetti’s Joanne is outwardly loud and bitter, with an inner yearning for acceptance behind her chain-smoking veneer. Her The Ladies Who Lunch is belted out with dramatic fervor, to the chagrin of Larry (Stephen Beecroft) her put-upon, but attentive husband. Amanda Morando is the self confident Marta, with a fascinating commentary on New York and the importance of truly seeing those you come into contact with, rather than walking past without noticing the crowd. She is unafraid of celebrating her unique personality, and does not push Robert to be a person he is not. Nicole Thordsen’s Amy is a standout in her neurotic panic attack, gibbering about boiled orange juice and marriage while being serenaded by Jennifer Rodway’s increasingly satirizing lyrics, clutching a bouquet of lilies with counterfeit innocence. It is Robert Nelson who carries the show, with lengthy solos, such as Someone is Waiting and Being Alive. His soothing voice and earnest quest for a partner are easy to sympathize with.

Novato Theater Company - Company

Photo by Marina Nims

Informed observations on marriage appear throughout the musical, such as relationships being built on the little things done together, but ultimately it is a comedy with over-the-top lyrics and dances, complete with top hats and a chorus line. Choreographer Kate Kenyon tosses out an amusing reference to Charlie’s Angels when the three single women take on You Could Drive a Person Crazy. Director Patrick Nims arranges the large cast with care throughout the play, keeping the overall visual lively, even when couples are not actively participating in a scene. I appreciated that Marina Nims’ costume design was based on the personality of characters, rather than rigid period accuracy.

Company’s songs are not memorable, and include often repeated phrases, but it is a charming experiment in using a theme, rather than plot to create a musical. Novato Theater Company has gathered a talented core of actors who are a triple threat—they can sing, dance, and act. Company in Novato is an enchanting production exploring the comedic pitfalls of marriage through a series of scenes chronicling lovers and their struggles.

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