Song and dance in Sonoma: Transcendence Theatre Company kicks off summer under the stars

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday June 18, 2024
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A 2023 Transcendence Theatre Company show included excerpts from the musical 'Hair' <br>(photo: Transcendence Theatre Company)
A 2023 Transcendence Theatre Company show included excerpts from the musical 'Hair'
(photo: Transcendence Theatre Company)

"We may do a song from 'Phantom of the Opera,' but there's no way we can have a giant chandelier come crashing down from the ceiling," said Tony Gonzalez, the artistic director of Transcendence Theatre Company.

"Our stage is set up in the middle of a field. As far as scenery goes, we have the sunset and then a sky full of stars. That's spectacular in its own way, but it's the talent that really carries these shows."

The talent, stellar in its own right, consists of dozens of singers and dancers who regularly appear on Broadway and West End stages but sweep into Sonoma County in several waves each summer. This weekend marks the opening of the company's 14th season.

Four celebratory new song-and-dance shows will each have four-night runs at the 900-capacity Field of Dreams, located two blocks from the Sonoma town plaza.

Transcendence Theatre Company's 2023 Pride Night. (photo: Brennan Spark)  

From June 20-23, "Summertime" delivers a bumper crop of seasonally-themed numbers, ranging from the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" to "Let the Sun Shine In," from "Hair."

July 25-28 brings "Don't Stop Us Now," a collaboration with two vocal groups led by Transcendence alumni The MidAtlantic Men and Queenz of Rock, who have appeared in nightclubs and on cruise ships around the world
Motown and R&B get the spotlight in "Dancing in The Streets" from August 15-18.

And beloved show tunes are featured in "A Sentimental Journey" from September 19-22.

Broadway West
Transcendence performers, all members of Actors' Equity, arrive in town two to three weeks in advance of each production for rehearsals which, though intense, offer a markedly different mood and environment from the studios and stages of big city theater.

Transcendence Theatre Company cofounder Amy Miller  

"We started this because wanted to be able to do great musical theater work without the hustle and lifestyle of New York, LA, or Chicago," said Amy Miller, the veteran Broadway dancer who co-founded Transcendence with her husband Brad Surosky. The couple settled in Sonoma County following stints doing television and film work in Los Angeles.

"It's a whole different feeling here," Miller said in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter, explaining that the revue format of most of Transcendence's productions allows singers and dancers "to perform as themselves."

"They're singing and dancing to songs that they love," said Miller, "They're not playing roles. You can really recharge your batteries as a performer coming out here and having a chance to express yourself creatively."

While many Transcendence cast members fit Sonoma in between other jobs, it's not uncommon for performers from long-running Broadway shows to take leaves for several weeks in order to join old friends and former colleagues in a sort of artistic retreat with Transcendence.

Connecting communities
"We call ourselves 'dots,'" Miller said. "And putting together each summer's casts is like a big game of connect the dots. I was the dot that connected to Tony."

Gonzalez, who was in the Broadway cast of "Mamma Mia!" and still makes his home in New York, first collaborated with Miller when they were undergraduates in the music theater department at Ohio's Otterbein College in the 1990s.

Over the years, word of mouth about Transcendence has spread throughout the New York theater community. This summer's casts will include performers who've been featured in "Sweeney Todd," "Harmony," and other Broadway productions this past season.

Transcendence Theatre Company Artistic Director Tony Gonzalez  

"This isn't just another gig," said Miller. "The performers and other creatives who come here want to have the experience of performing outdoors, of working with people they know and admire, and of getting involved with the local community."

Community engagement, such as master classes with young people, visits to senior centers and healthcare facilities, and programs with Sonoma County's LGBTQ+ Center, Positive Images, is part of performers' contract agreement when they sign on to participate in a Transcendence production.

Bring on the gays
"When I initially came to Sonoma to perform with Transcendence in 2014," Gonzalez told the Bay Area Reporter, "I was definitely wondering what it would be like to be out here as a gay man. But over the years, I've met so many great gay couples in the area who have become big supporters of Transcendence. There's a couple we call 'The Dads' who we love to spot in the audience during our shows."

In addition to bringing remarkably polished entertainment to a region adored by tourists but famously light on nightlife, Gonzalez said the annual descent of Transcendence talent creates a small but notable uptick in wine country's queer population.

"The energy at the gym here definitely changes when our casts arrive in town," he quipped.

Gay music theater fans from throughout the Bay Area have long been a part of Transcendence's core audience, many combining a performance with winery tastings, restaurant sampling, or spa treatments as part of a weekend getaway.

"We had our first Pride night last year," said Gonzalez, "And it attracted a lot of younger people who hadn't seen one of our shows before."

Transcendence's second annual Pride celebration will take place at the August 17 performance of "Dancing in The Streets," in collaboration with Face to Face, the Sonoma County AIDS Network.

Transcendence Theatre Company at Field of Dreams, 151 1st St., Sonoma. (877) 424-1414

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