Rhythm Transcendence on a Summer Night

Review of Fascinating Rhythm
By Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Directed by Eric Jackson
Music Direction by Matt Smart
Choreography by Nick Kepley

For tickets / schedule :
Jack London State Historic Park
Glen Ellen, CA
Transcendence Theatre Company

RUN: August 4-20, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(August 4, 2017)

Transcendence Theatre - Fascinating Rhythm

Photo by Rebecca Call

The grounds of Jack London State Park reserved for the Transcendence Theatre always inspires me. A short trek up to the check-in tables and we are greeted by both volunteers and performers who really show they are glad we have come this evening. A little further and we see the valley open up in front of us with tables, booths, food trucks and live music. This is not just another venue space, but a commitment to making the stay here as relaxing and exciting as possible.

This is opening night under a variable sky. The rain has passed and the clouds are making way for stars and a full moon. The local patrons from Sonoma and Santa Rosa told me they would not miss these summer evenings. Many have been coming here for 4 years or more and are quite content to relax into the show with a picnic and some wine.

Slowly, we all make our way into the old winery walls that define the “theatre” and find our seats facing the large stage and vineyard hill behind. Stephan, Brad and Amy greet us with a high energy welcome. The band is onstage for this production, spread across the backstage and ready to start the show. What do they have for us this evening?

Transcendence Theatre - Fascinating Rhythm

Photo from Transcendence Theatre

The rhythms in this production are varied from the bright “Everything Old is New Again” with Gavin Waters and Rachel Louise Thomas to the tap dancing energy of “Happy Feet.”  The orchestra has a particularly rich brass section that comes out in “Happy Feet” for our enjoyment. Janis Snyder assembles some excellent costumes to show off the dancers.

The progression of a song from singer to ensemble comes naturally to Transcendence. Erika Conaway starts the “Song of Purple Summer” and draws her ensemble group onto the stage to fill the early evening with choral music and modern dance. This is the type of music that fills the valley and sky with shimmering song, floating up to the moon above. A little heaven, please.

Transcendence Theatre - Fascinating Rhythm

Photo by Chris Hardy

With the 50th anniversary of the summer of love upon us, Transcendence presents the dueling guitars of AJ Ackleson and Colin Campbell McAdoo with “Summer of 69.” This early rock is mesmerizing and reminds us of the better parts of the 1960s.  We can always romanticize about what it would have been like with this music on our minds.

Add “Arthur in the Afternoon,” “Dancing with Myself,” and “Rise Up” for rhythms that are not your Broadway standards and lyrics! The point is to use the talent, music, variety and dance to create fantastic music with a flair for the stage. The little vignettes that spotlight the unusual routines and music build up to the entire company taking over the stage with “Fascinating Rhythm” and act 1 is complete.

The sun has gone down by the intermission, just on schedule for this show. The full moon moves out to help light the entertainment and our hearts.  Shaleah Adkisson belts out a mean “Play That Song” with full company backup moving and singing to fill the large stage.

“Baby That is Rock and Roll” pulls out the stops for the band and company. Suddenly the tempo changes to “I Got Plenty of Nothing” with Mike Kirsch. This flow of energy from large to intimate keeps the music and dance fresh for the audience while giving the dancers time to change. The second act continues this segue from large to small to large to keep us on the edge of our seats.

Matt Smart plays a mean piano with “Piano Man” as his baby grand piano moves center stage. The company is drawn out onstage to catch the mood with the audience. Now the sky is dark and the stage takes on a nightclub atmosphere for dance and song. This is perfect for the ebb and flow of the late night rhythms.

“A Sky Full of Stars” and “The World Goes Round” finish up the evening with hope and caring. Transcendence Theatre goes a full circle from the rhythms of 1960s rock to the peaceful rhythms of a thoughtful evening out with friends. It could not be better.

For large vision music and dancing, the Transcendence Theatre Company is making its presence known in the North Bay. Fascinating Rhythm runs through August 20 at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.

$39, $59, $65, $85
Available online at

Join the Quest in ‘Man of La Mancha’

Review of Man of La Mancha
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Book by Dale Wasserman
Direction & Music Direction by Les Pfutzenreuter

For tickets / schedule :
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
North Bay Stage Company

RUN: July 21 – August 6, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(July 23, 2017)

Man of La Mancha - North Bay Stage Company

Photo by John DeGaetano

Inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the musical focuses on an imaginative journey clinging to the hope that chivalry and lofty ideals will triumph, despite being constantly assured that “the world’s a dung heap and we are maggots that crawl on it.” Set in a Seville prison, a fictionalized version of the author finds himself in trouble with the Spanish Inquisition, and is called upon by his fellow prisoners to answer for his crimes. Cervantes defends in the form of a play within a play, which launches the story of Don Quixote, the madman or knight errant, depending on your point of view. The strength of this play is in its songs by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh, which I find myself humming for weeks afterward. Classics like “The Impossible Dream” and “I’m Only Thinking of Him” are memorable moments, along with the less savory tunes “It’s All the Same” and “Little Bird, Little Bird.”

Director Les Pfutzenreuter sets the scene as the doors open, with cast members on stage as if in a medieval prison, fighting over captured bugs, searching for an escape, and wearily lamenting their lot. Debi Stone gazes hauntingly toward the audience, filled with despair, wandering back and forth to an unseen fireplace. The cabaret seating gives the feeling of being in a Spanish café, along with a clever Don Quixote inspired menu. Scenic painter Ayla Decaire transforms the set into mobile blocks of stone, and the Luther Burbank Center’s appropriate brick wall is revealed between gently draped curtains.

Pedro Rodelas is an operatic Don Quixote / Cervantes, with noble bearing, a powerful voice and intense expressions that work well with his characters. The final scene as his eyes light up upon remembering that he is Don Quixote and not Alonso Quijano is beautifully moving. His partner in misadventures is Perry Aliado as Sancho Panza, who takes the down-to-earth servant and adds endearing enthusiasm to the role. Their encounters with windmills, gypsies, and muleteers leaves Don Quixote’s armor and weapons in various states of amusing disrepair.

Man of La Mancha - North Bay Stage Company

Photo by John DeGaetano

Paula Samonte’s fiery Aldonza is well acted, such as discussing a “missive” with Sancho that the knight has sent her, while she sloppily eats her soup and cross examines his motives for following the madman. Unfortunately, her voice is lost in the auditorium without a microphone to augment it, leaving the audience straining to hear her. Similar concerns appear with Susan Markcity’s Antonia; her lovely, sweet toned voice fails to carry, which renders the duet with Richard Rader as the Padre a trifle one sided.

Villainous Head Muleteer / Pedro dominates the stage with Ayrick Broin’s machismo and a dangerous whip at his side, ready to bend the world to his whims. Subtle bloody makeup after his dustup with the knight adds to the impression, and his treatment of Aldonza was tastefully directed by Pfutzenreuter while retaining the horror of her situation.

North Bay Stage Company’s Man of La Mancha captures the story in an enjoyable production with a capable cast. It is worth attending if the musical appeals to you or for an evening away from cares to join in the adventures of Don Quixote and to “follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.”

Get to the Cannery in Apple Blossom Time

Review of In the Mood
Adapted from William Shakespeare
Directed by David Lear
For tickets / schedule :
Railroad Square, Santa Rosa
(Enter through 6th Street Playhouse parking lot)

RUN: July 13 – August 5, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(July 15, 2017)

Shakespeare in the Cannery - In the Mood

Photo by Alex Shapiro

Romantic sunset light envelops the ruins of an old cannery in Santa Rosa, from which Shakespeare in the Cannery derives its name. A patriotic set resplendent in red, white and blue becomes the backdrop for this Hogan’s Heroes style retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, set in World War II at the USO in Messina. Tracy Hinman’s costume designs of adorable vintage dresses, bathing suits and lineup of dashing army officers sets the tone for a boogie-woogie version of the classic tale that is lighthearted and fun for the whole family.

Denise Elia-Yen is a thoughtful Beatrice in addition to being saucily witty; she takes her cousin’s playful chiding about being scornful to heart in a contemplative performance that adds depth to the character. David L. Yen’s Benedick heavily relies on physical comedy and outrageous reactions that are highly amusing. His disgusted gagging at the mention of “love” had the audience in fits of laughter, and director David Lear uses the series of trap doors in his set design to advantage as Benedick attempts to hide during the discussion of Beatrice’s supposed affection.

In a slight twist of the story, Elizabeth Henry portrays Leonora, instead of Leonato, which works with minor adjustments, such as “be happy, lady; for you are like an honourable mother.” Her calm, stately presence centers the production, and her fierce confrontation with those caused her daughter’s ruin is formidable. In a brief exchange with Sergeant Dogberry (Brandon Wilson), Henry’s comedic timing duels well with his, augmented with support from Michal Victoria (Antonia).

Shakespeare in the Cannery - In The Mood

Photo by Alex Shapiro

The Watch is hilarious, marching in and out with a brisk “left, left, left, right, left” while bumping into one another, eating muffins and coming to attention while facing opposite directions. Wilson’s Dogberry and Brian Abbott’s Verges are quite the team, flawlessly pronouncing hopelessly ill placed vocabulary with the gravity of saints.

Finding an angle for the villains, conspicuously wearing black covers in this production, is a challenge, and Lear took a unique perspective that I enjoyed. Rather than making Don John (Stefan Wenger) the instigator, he is portrayed is rather bored and making sport of discomfort with a Loki trickster personality. It is Borachio (John Browning) whose cruelty suggests the disgrace of Hero and sinister machinations.

While this is an abbreviated retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, it fills the gaps with enchanting musical numbers and toe-tapping swing dances from choreographer Alia Beeton and costumed musicians led by Justin Pyne with favorites like “Stormy Weather,” “In the Mood” and “Taking a Chance on Love.” The finale floats with infectious rhythm, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is one of the more elaborate dance sequences I have seen in a North Bay musical.

This nostalgic romp through the 1940s with William Shakespeare’s brilliant comedy is a colorful evening of music and dance with a talented cast and creative direction from David Lear. Shakespeare in the Cannery continues to amuse and delight with this year’s In the Mood.

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