As the show begins, the sun sets over the hillside vineyard visible just beyond the stage. By the time it all ends, the moon has fully risen over the makeshift outdoor theater.
While the main draw of Transcendence Theatre Company's annual Broadway Under the Stars shows in Jack London State Park are the Broadway performers, the obvious co-star of the series is the setting itself.
If One Singular Sensation, the exceptional two-weekend-long revue that kicked off the summer's lineup of song-and-dance extravaganzas, is any indication of things to come this summer, then Transcendence Theatre Company has definitely hit its stride. It's quite amazing what these performers can pull off using a bare stage, very few props (some stools and chairs, notebooks, a bowler hat or two), and no fancy stage effects—though incorporating real horses into a performance of "Fugue for Tinhorns," from Guys and Dolls, came pretty close to being a special effect.
After three full seasons, artistic director Amy Miller demonstrates that she still has plenty of tricks up her sleeve. Though each show follows the same basic road map—25 or so tunes from Broadway shows performed in different configurations by a company of about 15—the choice of songs and the clever way Miller arranges, interprets and choreographs the numbers just keeps getting better.
Of course, repeat audiences are beginning to notice certain "traditions" beginning to evolve, from Miller's opening recitation of Jack London's famous "meteor" quote, to the inclusion of one or two non-Broadway songs (things like "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "How Can I Keep from Singing?") presented in surprising ways—and at least one clever, comedic cameo by co-executive director Brad Surosky.
There is also a sense of consistency to the way the ever-changing (many of whom takes breaks from Broadway and L.A. careers to perform at Jack London) always includes a few regulars. Stephan Stubbins (the other co-executive director), with his solidly dramatic performances that swing from hilarious to heartbreaking, is a consistent local favorite, along with the amazing singer-songwriter Carrie Manolakis, the superb Lexy Fridell and the always-surprising Leah Sprecher.
Though specific shows change titles and tunes throughout the season, one thing can be counted on every time: Broadway Under the Stars is among the North Bay's best, most entertaining onstage theatrical experiences—inside or outside an actual theater.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★★