Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
I love to be introduced to new songs as much as anyone, and it's interesting to hear songs from musicals that aren't the hits, but in this production it feels like we were getting a surfeit of back catalog numbers. There are some musical highlights, especially "It All Fades Away," a number from The Bridges of Madison County, a show I've never seen, performed with a sense of deep yearning by Ruby Lewis, who brings an aching quality that put me in mind of bluegrass/country phenom Alison Krauss. The most entertaining number of the night is a quartet of songs featuring four of the show's male performers (Kyle Kemph, Cecil Washington, Jr., Colin Campbell McAdoo, and Jesse Nager) doing songs usually done by women.
But perhaps the most thrilling musical moments of the night are provided by Kyle Kemph. He's been with the company for several shows, and packs a lot of power into his small frame. I've said before I think he'd be a perfect Elder Price in The Book of Mormon and I still do, but what is most thrilling about his performance in Gala is hearing how he seems to have taken his voice to a new level. He has always been an excellent singer, but he is now showing the audience he's found a whole other gear for his soaring tenor.
Though there are some lovely moments of dance, especially by Kathleen Laituri and Ben Lanham, there just aren't enough of them. The same is true of the costumes (by Colleen Till)–TTC usually treats us to lots of changes, but here it feels like we are seeing the same basic black for most of the evening. Ditto for the clever stagings TTC comes up with to overcome the limitations of a smallish, outdoor stage: though a few moments caught my attention–the solo empty chair that stands in for the absent lover in "The Man That Got Away" and the handheld lighting instruments that illuminate the performers in "I See Stars" from Mean Girls–ultimately, it feels like the company went over budget on their previous two shows and had to economize too deeply on this one.
Although this production doesn't quite live up to expectations, I'm certain the pros at Transcendence Theatre Company will heed the words of the classic song from Swing Time: "Don't lose your confidence if you slip. Be grateful for a pleasant trip. And pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again."
Gala runs through September 18, 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. Tickets range from $25-$165. "Gold Level" tickets includes VIP parking, seat cushions, two glasses of wine and admission to the pre-show lounge. For tickets and information, please visit www.TranscendenceTheatre.org.