Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
And this is precisely the reason you should go see Let's Dance, the new show from the skilled (and lovely) folks of Transcendence Theatre Company, which opened this past weekend in their usual venue, the Winery Ruins at Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, in Sonoma's gorgeous Valley of the Moon. From its first quiet moments when birdsong fills the air until its thrilling finale some two hours later, the creators and amazing cast of Let's Dance seem to have taken it as a solemn responsibility to keep their audience engaged, smiling, and thoroughly entertained. This is a responsibility they not only meet, but exceed as, at the performance I attended, there wasn't a moment that I wasn't enthralled by the cast's dancing (fast, energetic, precise, joyful), the 10-piece band's thrilling musicianship, the range of strong, tuneful voices, and the imaginative choreography (by TTC veteran Luis Salgado.
If you've never heard of Transcendence Theatre Company, they set up residence in the Sonoma wine country a little over a decade ago and every year have been producing musical revues (and one actual musical–A Chorus Line in 2019) that take place in the staggeringly beautiful setting on Jack London's former estate in Glen Ellen. The winery was severely damaged in the 1906 earthquake, and the remaining buildings burnt to the ground in 1965. All that is left are the tall limestone walls that enclosed the winery and now serve as TTC's outdoor theater. But a lovely theater is worthless if the shows presented in it are bland or boring or pointless or just plain bad.
Fortunately, the Transcendence seem never to let such a thing happen. Virtually every show I've seen of theirs–and I've seen a dozen or more–hits the mark. They assemble casts drawn from Broadway shows and road companies and create revues that feature songs from across the spectrum of American music: pop, rock, soul, the American Songbook and, of course, musicals. (Including in this show, "A Musical" from the aforementioned Something Rotten!)
The cast selected for Let's Dance is, as one might expect, heavy on skilled dancers (especially Catherine Wreford, who was in 42nd Street on Broadway, and Michael Nero, who has an explosiveness that at one point drew gasps from the audience, so impressive was his leap), but they all seem to be triple threats: able to dance, sing, and play their roles with conviction and skill. It is especially wonderful to take note of how each cast member brings their own energy and emotion to the stage. Focus on any one of them at any time and you will find them fully engaged with not only their singing and dancing, but inhabiting a character that aligns perfectly with the number being performed. There is never a moment where you catch a dancer so caught up by performing Salgado's demanding choreography that you can almost see them thinking about the next sequence. No, every time you look, no matter how challenging the dance, they are lost in the role they are playing, even if it's only being a member of the chorus.
Nearly every number the cast performs could be called out as a highlight, but I was especially impressed by the "Sondheim Celebration" that features the fast-paced patter of "Another Hundred People" (from Company), an emotional "Color and Light" (from Sunday in the Park with George), and a powerful rendition by Emily Yates of "Being Alive" (also from Company). And don't come back late from intermission or you'll miss the "Drum Solo" that features Luis Antonio Vilchez Vargas on the cajita and cajon, two Latin percussion instruments Vargas plays with great verve, and he also gets the audience involved in a way that had us clapping in rhythm–and laughing at his antics. (Vargas also does some terrific tapping in several other numbers.)
As usual, the folks at Transcendence not only make sure the show is entertaining, but also that every other aspect of the audience experience is flawless. Their tag line is "Best Night Ever," and somehow they live up to that high standard with every show they put on.
Let's Dance runs through July 3, 2022, in the Winery Ruins at Jack London State Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen CA. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m. Ticket range from $25 - $165. "Gold Level" tickets includes VIP parking, two glasses of wine, and admission to the pre-show lounge. Tickets and additional information can be found at www.TranscendenceTheatre.org.