For the last eight summers, Transcendence Theatre Company has taken up residence among the historic Kohler & Frohling Winery’s open-air ruins at the Jack London State Park in Sonoma County to perform “Broadway Under the Stars.”
Dubbed “the Best Night Ever,” this long-running season of theatrical showcases regularly features top Broadway professionals singing and dancing to the greatest musical theater hits within four different offerings that include family-friendly concerts and an end-of-summer gala celebration, to boot.
“This is our ninth season and it’s been amazing because the entire community has made this possible,” artistic director Amy Miller says. “We’ve had over 700 artists perform on the stage, but we are growing because of the support of the community. We all built this together.”
This summer, Jack London State Park’s ruins will remain closed to gatherings due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In lieu of a now-canceled theater season, Transcendence Theatre Company is transitioning to a virtual incarnation of the “Broadway Under the Stars” series to present the “Best Night Ever Online,” featuring four different performance compilations from the company’s last eight years of shows, all captured on rarely before seen videos.
“It was always part of the vision to have an online media network and education network,” Miller says. “I never thought a worldwide pandemic would push that into being, but now we are working on it sooner rather than later, with what’s going on.”
The “Best Night Ever Online” virtual season opens this weekend with Don’t Stop Believin,’ running on the internet on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays July 10 through 19. The video presentation includes pre-show entertainment and interviews, and the performance compilation features more than 80 artists combining their talents over the years, highlighted by popular Broadway numbers such as Chicago’s “All That Jazz” and Hamilton: An American Musical’s “My Shot.”
“We taped our shows in extremely high-quality film from the beginning,” Miller says. “We’ve sung over a thousand songs, and we have many years of the best of the best. You’ll see performances from 2012 up to 2019.”
Miller adds that in watching the videos, Transcendence Theatre Company’s evolution as an organization is also on display, as three-piece bands turn into a dozen-piece orchestra through the years.
“You see the stage grow and the performers grow, so it’s kind of like reminiscing,” Miller says. “This is also never-before-seen footage, we never shared a lot of this online before.”
Beyond the entertaining videos, “Best Night Ever Online” teams up with several Sonoma County food vendors and wineries, which will create special menus for each show, and pair them with selected wines. These meals and wines will be available for delivery and pick-up to further enhance the at-home experience. Participating vendors include the Girl & the Fig, Perkins Catering Company and Sonoma Valley–based Chef Kyle Kuklewski.
“What we’re doing is trying to create online, what happens in the park,” Miller says. “We’re encouraging people to make their own ‘Best Night Ever’ while we’re not together.”
“The Best Night Ever Online” series continues through the summer with virtual versions of the popular Fantastical Family Night running July 24–26, a moving I Hope You Dance performance showcase running August 14–16 and 21–23 and a season-closing Gala Celebration running online September 11–13.
Reservations to the online shows are offered on a donation-only basis, meaning many North Bay theater lovers who have never had the chance to check out the “Broadway Under the Stars” series in person now have the opportunity to catch up on nearly a decade of Broadway-level performances.
As a nonprofit, Transcendence Theatre Company also gives back a portion of donations to a different fellow North Bay nonprofit for each of this summer’s 18 online performance nights.
“We’re trying, like we always do, to unite the community,” Miller says. “We’re trying to uplift the community in the best way we can. We’re grateful for the whole community and I’m also grateful that we can make these inspiring shows.”
‘Don’t Stop Believin’ runs online July 10–12 and July 17–19. Fridays, 7pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 1:30pm and 7pm. Online reservations are free, donations welcomed. Bestnightever.org.