Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Stairway to Paradise
Transcendence Theatre Company
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of A Walk on the Moon and Jeanie's reviews of Honky and The Fantasticks

Cast of Stairway to Paradise
Photo by Ray Mabry
Transcendence Theatre Company has another hit on their hands, and this one is as fabulous as it can get. Expertly directed and choreographed by Tony Gonzalez, Stairway to Paradise features 18 Broadway performers in numbers selected from musical theatre and pop hits. It's a true "triple threat" ensemble—all of them actor-singer-dancer professionals—and wow, do they deliver a knockout show. Transcendence Theatre Company has come to mean award-winning solid entertainment, and this is one of their best yet. Each year (since 2011) seems to get better and better, and this first show in the new season heralds a summer full of awesome.

Classics like "Blue Skies" get the Transcendence treatment, meaning updated arrangements and clever staging infused with dance and showcasing the polished talents of one or more performers. The next number might be a well-known song from musical theatre, like "Cabaret" (featuring repeat favorite Leslie McDonel), or a popular hit, like Justin Timberlake's infectious "Can't Stop the Feeling" (in a standout rendition by the men, showcasing their superb voices and dance skills).

Sprinkled in are lesser-known numbers that deserve airing, like the delightful "A Little Bit," from Crazy, Just Like Me (performed by Michael Linden), or the funny "Air Conditioner," by Christine Lavin (made hilarious by Shaleah Adkisson, with assistance from Tim Roller). There are some wonderful surprises that I won't spoil, including the premiere of a new song, new lyrics to a classic, and a wacky version of a TV game show.

A delectable sense of humor runs throughout, balancing the serious with the comic. You'll never hear Van Halen's "Right Now" in a more stirring version, or a sweeter rendition of "Edelweiss" (by Joey Khoury and Libby Servais). Meggie Cansler Ness is up to her comedic tricks in "As We Stumble Along," while Courtney Markowitz and Steven Cutts share a sobering duet of "Carefully Taught" and "Children Will Listen." Somber or playful, it all brings home the theme of "Every moment counts," a phrase that could sound like YOLO, but also takes us another step forward in communal healing after the devastation of last October.

Kudos to Gonzalez and his team, including his associates Julia Freyer and Tim Roller, and music director Matt Smart and his associate Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer. Ariel Allen's costume design creates an artful palette, stylish and colorful, and sound design by Nils Erickson is mostly effective—it's a tricky venue for balancing the band with the vocals. Jeffrey Porter deserves mention for beautiful lighting effects that we don't really get to enjoy until act two. Artistic director Amy Miller and executive directors Brad Surosky and Stephan Stubbins are on hand to emcee the festivities. It's a class act all around, with professionals both local and imported, with the feel of a production grown on Sonoma soil, paying tribute to its chosen home.

Arrive early to enjoy the festive ambience Transcendence creates in Jack London Park, but don't forget to bring warm layers—it's an outdoor venue, and can get chilly after the sun goes down.

The stated mission of the company goes beyond creating a fabulous entertainment, aiming to enrich a community with inspiration, goodwill, and the charge to live life to its fullest with energy and passion. Let fear be replaced by joy, live appreciating each moment, and count your blessings. It may sound sappy, but the atmosphere generated in two hours bears witness to a heightened sense of purpose and motivation. It's hard to resist the positive message, and, why would you? Let yourself be nourished and energized by this spectacular production and carry the warm feelings into the parking lot and out into the world.

Stairway to Paradise, through July 1, 2018, by Transcendence Theatre Company at Jack London National Park, 2400 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen CA. Tickets $49.00-$145.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 877-424-1414, ext. 1.