Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Broadway Holiday Spectacular
Transcendence Theatre Company
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Jeanie's reviews of Anne of Green Gables and Every Brilliant Thing and Patrick's review of The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley

The Cast
Photo by Ray Mabry
Run, don't walk, to pick up your phone and get tickets if you can—Transcendence Theatre Company has done it again, with a knockout production that soars with fabulous song and dance, and will lift your spirits high for the holidays. Fan favorites are joined by new faces in the ensemble, bringing their triple-threat talents from Broadway in one showstopper number after another. The challenge is trying to decide which number, which performer one loves the best—the whole show is that good. Director/choreographer Tony Gonzalez, music director and co-creator Susan Draus, and their creative team have concocted a merry, soul-stirring froth of an entertainment you don't want to miss.

Act one includes traditional songs such as "Jingle Bells" in a modern medley alongside pop hits such as "Let It Go" (Crystal Kellogg, Erin Clemons and Shaleah Adkisson in a thrilling trio) and "All I Want for Christmas" (much-loved local Meggie Cansler Ness, with Cassie Levine and Traci Elaine Lee). There's a beautiful rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by newcomer Erin Clemons, a wistful version of "Christmas Time" (Shaleah Adkisson), and a tale of snowflakes in "One of a Kind" sung by Will Ray to children from the audience. Transcendence has found their Fred and Ginger in Julia Freyer Gleason and Luis Figueroa, who sail through a superb dance for "The Christmas Waltz." Fun abounds in the Peanuts scenarios, a plethora of grandmothers, and a "Swinging Yuletide."

The show wouldn't be complete without a moving tribute to Hanukkah (led by Cassie Levine and Stephan Stubbins) and the joyous "To Life!" Act one closes with a surprising, fresh arrangement of the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's "Messiah," combining jazz, gospel, and Broadway for an exhilarating finish.

Act two blows the roof off with "A Festive Flashback," highlighting styles of music for each decade from the 1920s through the 1980s, including homages to the Andrews sisters, Elvis, the Mamas and Papas, and more, even Madonna in an electrifying number. "Last Dance/Auld Lang Syne" gives us another brilliant dance duo, this time by Alex Hartman and Tim Roller. Stephan Stubbins moves the action to quiet mode, delivering a touching solo at the piano of "Count Your Blessings." The women have fun with "Big Spender," and the men show off their steps in "I Want to be a Rockette." The reprise of the "Jingle Bells" medley by the full company delivers a rousing, inspirational number that brought the audience to its feet before its end at the performance I attended. The theater fills with a palpable enthusiasm and warmth of good feeling that some call the "Transcendence effect."

Associate director Nikko Kimzin, associate choreographer Alex Hartman, and associate music director, conductor and primary pianist Aaron Benham all deserve mention for their part in the entertainment, as well as the many arrangers who help create the company's unique style. The impressive, movable set pieces generate many different looks and levels (no scenic designer noted in the program). Sound design by Nils Erickson, lighting by Paul Hudson, and costumes by Ariel Allen add considerable enhancement to the overall spectacle.

It's a feast for the senses, a holiday gift for us all, a big, ambitious enterprise by the company that chose Sonoma County for its home, earning our support with its truly spectacular productions. Unfortunately, this year the run is short—opening weekend occupied the Luther Burbank Performing Arts Center, but the final weekend moves to Napa Valley. Only two chances left.

Don't be surprised if you're still dancing on the way out of the theatre—let the "Transcendence effect" carry you out to a joyous and meaningful season of celebration.

Broadway Holiday Spectacular, through December 7, 2018, at Napa Valley Center for the Arts at Lincoln Theater, 100 California Drive, Yountville CA. Tickets $39 - $79, available at or 877-424-1414, ext. 1