News Column

Song and dance under the stars

July 4, 2014

By Dan Taylor, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

July 04--With the moon and stars shining overhead, the winery ruins at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen take on a magical glow.

Add an evening of song and dance by polished performers from Broadway shows and national touring companies and you've got the Transcendence Theatre Company, now in its third summer season at the park.

"One of the coolest things for us is that it's an opportunity for both tourists and locals to enjoy the full Sonoma County experience in one night," said Stephan Stubbins, the theater company's co-executive director and one of its lead performers.

"You drive through the vineyards up to the park, you picnic next to the vineyards, drinking local wines from multiple wineries from Sonoma Valley and eating food from local food trucks and vendors," he said. "You're with the whole community in an historic spot, and there's first-class entertainment."

That winning formula has attracted 190,000 visitors to Transcendence Theatre's shows so far, and hopes are high for the current season, which opened June 27 with "One Singular Sensation," the opening production in the popular "Broadway Under the Stars" series.

The series features themed musical revues with songs, medleys and dances culled from Broadway favorites, with players who performed them in New York on tour. The title of the first show, running through Saturday, comes from the big number in "A Chorus Line."

Other productions in the series are "Fantastical Family Night," including an appearance by children from the company's week-long kids' theater camp, July 25-26; "The Music Of The Night," named for the big hit from "Phantom of the Opera," Aug. 14-16 and Aug. 22-24; and "Gala Celebration," the season finale, Sept. 5-6.

The company also presents the "Transcendence Artist Series," with solo acts and duos performing at the park and other venues.

The big news this year is an appearance by Ben Vereen, winner of a 1973 Tony Award for "Pippin" on Broadway, and nominated for an Emmy in 1977 for his role as "Chicken George" in the hit TV miniseries "Roots."

The actor, singer and dancer will perform is own show, "Steppin' Out Live with Ben Vereen," Aug. 9 at Jack London State Historic Park.

The series also features:

Lexy Fridell's one-woman show, "Brace Yourself: Tales of Braces, Broadway, Dating and Drool," July 12-13 at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood.

Singer-songwriters and season musical theater performers Carrie Manolakos and Morgan Karr, Aug. 1-2 at Landmark Vineyards in Sonoma.

"Witness Uganda," a story of efforts to help African children, set to Afro-pop music, Aug 19 at the Atwood Ranch in Sonoma Valley.

"Oh, What A Beautiful Mash-Up," duets and vignettes performed by Stubbins and company charter member Leah Sprecher Aug 28 on a new stage at Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa.

The Transcendence Theatre Company is contracted to continue appearing through 2019 at Jack London State Historic Park, and donates a portion of its earnings to the park, contributing more than $72,000 so far.

"Our theme this season is 'Paint the Universe' through song and dance," Stubbins said, "so we've teamed up with Benziger Family Winery for our own line of 'Paint the Universe' wines."

The wine is a Meritage blend of merlot, cabernet and zinfandel. To mark the occasion, Carrie Manolakos, Andrew Allen and Robin Ghosh also have written a season theme song titled "Paint the Universe."

Another addition this year is shuttle bus service to the park, with multiple stops in Sonoma and Santa Rosa, priced at $20 per person.

For shuttle reservations: 877-424-1414, ttcsonoma,org.

(You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or Read his Arts blog at


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Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)

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