I simply cannot help it: Take certain people out to the ballgame, buy them some peanuts and Crackerjack, and they’re happy as can be. But take me out under the stars to see a group of talented young singers-actors-dancers doing their passionate utmost to bring Broadway’s music to an audience, and I truly don’t care if I ever come back!
It was the world I was introduced to early in my hometown of Atlanta, and it was the world that grew me in New York City: Broadway, where the livin’ wasn’t all that easy, but the pleasures were high. And it was the summery planet Peter and I lived on for a few golden hours on a recent Saturday night, when we were the guests of the lively Transcendence Theatre Company, out at the beautiful Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen (Sonoma County).
Along with our friend Leba, we were welcomed as VIPs to this little oasis of culture and fun in the sweet outdoors, mainly because our reputations as “arts people” preceded us and the Transcendence folks wanted us to feel welcome. And, readers, we surely did feel that. Parking our car, we walked a little dirt path up a mild hill, and were greeted with VIP bracelets and wine glasses. Our glasses were soon filled by any number of wineries represented both at the entrance to and inside the dining meadow. Yes, meadow, because stretched before us were acres of picnic tables, blankets strewn across the grass, food trucks, more wine stands, and a melodic duo singing songs from the Great American Songbook. It looked like a congenial painting of a perfect twilit evening. I could just sense we were surrounded by actors and singers, all of whom served as waiters. I know that energy, that spritely joy, and each of the young men and women who greeted us along the way had that energy. We would soon see them onstage, which I wasn’t surprised to hear.
We were shown to the VIP lounge area under bountifully spreading trees, and immediately our glasses were graced with a few inches of superb champagne. I don’t know whether the bubbly came from the Benzinger Family Winery, but because Benzinger is one of Transcendence’s season sponsors (and their property borders where the theater is set up), I am here to tell you that all of the wines I tasted were yummy, so I thank Benzinger and other producers for the delicious bounty. Our custom-made boxed dinners were brought to our table, as we were introduced to Stephan Stubbins, the co-executive director of Transcendence. He is also one of its star performers onstage.
Let’s skip to the chase shall we?
Because as relaxing and enchanting as our dinnertime in the meadow was, we were there for Another Openin Another Show — a concert evening of Broadway tunes built along the story of Transcendence’s own history. And from the act 1, One Second and a Million Miles to Go from the little-known cult hit Bridges of Madison County, (sung by a truly gifted tenor Stephan Stubbins), through Prologue: Ragtime, and Tradition from Fiddler on the Roof (narrated by founder and artistic director of the company, Amy Miller, also a gifted dancer and actress), the excited and loving audience could not have been happier.
Transcendence Theatre Company came together when Amy Miller and her husband, Brad Surosky did, in 2007, springing from their wish to form a musical theatre company with some of their talented friends. They did on-site research in Mexico, and in cities around our country, to learn how best to start and run a new theater company, and finally wound up in Glen Ellen in 2010, around the time it was announced that California State Parks would have to close due to lack of funding. The clever Miller and Surosky offered to do a one-night benefit concert for Jack London State Historic Park, suggesting if the concert could attract 200 people, paying a small amount each, then maybe the park could possibly be Transcendence’s home for a while. Nine hundred folks showed up to that first benefit concert and all the money earned went to the park for upkeep and, I hope, helping to secure its future. Transcendence had found its home.
And it’s a beauty.
Nestled among the ruins of one of Jack London’s brick out buildings, a large, accommodating wooden stage was built, with platforms and stairways and a large space for dancers. As we sat in our seats, we could see a gorgeous hillside of grapevines snaking up a gracious hill. The sky provided gentle colors into a darkening night, and the down-stage left orchestra, surprisingly good, provided a full sound of beautiful arrangements to support the wonderfully talented company of 21 singers and dancers.
I’m writing about this because it’s a theater company that deserves your support, and you deserve to have as much fun as Peter and I did. There are several more concert evenings planned throughout the summer.
Go see these wonderful talented performers and let Broadway get under your skin, too! You’ll love it, I promise.
Transcendence Theatre Company: Broadway Under the Stars: “Fascinating Rhythm;” 7:30 p.m., Fri.–Sun., Aug., 4–13, & Thu.–Sun., Aug. 17–20; $45–$149; Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen; 877-424-1414, transcendencetheatre.org