Infectious ‘Rhythm’

Broadway Under Stars show makes case for Transcendence, not 'reinvention'

Since Transcendence Theatre Company’s first transplanted itself to Sonoma County in 2012, its Broadway Under the Stars shows, at Jack London State Historic Park, have become a consistently popular wine country summertime event.

Consistency is the key.

After six years, with four distinct Under the Stars shows produced each summer, the company’s centerpiece productions have not really evolved much, though they’ve certainly morphed, shifting subtly, while always retaining their basic shape. Dependably built on a strong foundation of song and dance, blending Broadway showstoppers and popular tunes—with the occasional recitation of a Jack London quote—every show is designed for maximum emotional and inspirational impact.

As its roots in Sonoma County grow deeper, Transcendence has so far resisted any pressure to replace its crowd-pleasing revues with full musicals. Which, for some reason, is what many of us, including me, once expected. Remember those early years, when the local air was full of juicy rumors that Transcendence might soon be bringing a production of Wicked, or something similarly exciting, to Jack London? Well, after six years of unprecedented success—with only minor visible tinkering to the format—perhaps it’s finally time to replace the question, “When is Transcendence going to do a full musical?” with the question, “Why, exactly, should they?”

The current dance-focused mid-season production, Fascinating Rhythm, is a prime case-maker as to why the company would be foolish to shake things up too drastically, and why we’d be foolish to want that.

Directed and choreographed by Eric Jackson, with musical direction by Matt Smart, the show differs from previous productions in small but powerful ways—introducing a number of first-time Transcendence performers, allowing the “characters” from one number to carry over, occasionally, into the next number or two, and other appealing choices. Artistic director Amy Miller has even adjusted the company’s signature use of Jack London’s famous “meteor” quote, to satisfying effect.

Highlights include a clever all-female rendition of the jazzy “Cool” from West Side Story, Stephan Stubbins’ delicately soaring rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Unexpected,” from the show Song and Dance and a stirring performance of “Rise Up” by the marvelous Avionce Hoyles.

Meticulously designed and joyously carried out, Fascinating Rhythm may not have a plot or a story, but—just as we’ve come to expect—it carries more beauty, drama, excitement and sheer emotional power than a lot of other full musicals ever do.