Sunday afternoon December 3rd I had the pleasure of attending Transcendence Theatre’s Holiday Show at the newly re-opened Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, and by pleasure I mean a rocking, soulful, merry, fun, energized and spirited two hours of fabulous entertainment. I’m sorry I can’t recommend that you see it, since it’s closed now, but if you haven’t yet discovered the treasure that is Transcendence, hopefully I can inspire you to make it to the next show.
Transcendence Theatre has been around long enough now (since 2011) to have a track record, and that means award-winning solid entertainment, whether in their cherished outdoor venue at Jack London park or at the LBC or elsewhere. Imported Broadway stars perform alongside professional locals, directed and choreographed by top-notch teams to deliver first-rate performances. Often the material is adapted or creatively re-imagined to give it a kind of Transcendence snap, or to showcase particular talent.
In this show, that means lively renditions of a Fezziwig party ala Dickens, new lyrics for “Big Spender” for modern shopping fatigue, and a delightful version of “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” from Spamalot, It also means heartfelt classics such as “The Christmas Song” sung by Courtney Markowitz, or “Blue Christmas” by Colin Campbell McAdoo. Act One ends with a rousing full-company take on “We Need a Little Christmas,” that felt all too relevant in light of recent events.
Act Two demonstrates the breadth of talent on stage as the company surprises us with a choral arrangement of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” adapted by Matt Smart, making it fresh for a new season. “Soul Cake,” sung by the trio of Beth Kirkpatrick, Courtney Markowitz and Joey Khoury is likely to keep you humming it later. But then Kirkpatrick turns on a dime and delivers one of the funniest musical skits I’ve seen, partnering with Philip Dean Lightstone in “12 DAZE of Christmas” as arranged and orchestrated by Alejandro Senior. Wine tasting has never been this much fun! What a hoot!
The rest of the show moves from one soulful number to the next, including a show-stopping version of “Rise Up,” sung by David R. Gordon and Shaleah Adkisson, while accompanied by interpreter Sandy McLennon, who signed the uplifting song for hearing-impaired audience members, but for all of us, too. The effect was mesmerizing, and had the entire audience on its feet in seconds at the end. More standing O’s ensued with a stellar delivery of “The Prayer,” performed by Julie Craig, and what might be the company’s theme song, “Spread the Love Around,” in a heart-stirring finale. Kudos to director Tony Gonzalez and his production team for building the show’s mood and wow factor to create a wonderfully satisfying experience.
The company filled the LBC with capacity crowds all last weekend, and Artistic Director Amy Miller also let us know that over 1000 tickets had been given away so that first responders and others impacted by the Sonoma County fires could attend the show. Additionally 5% of the proceeds were set aside for recovery efforts. Miller and her husband Brad Surosky (co-executive director of the company) live in Glen Ellen and had to quickly evacuate their home in the early hours of Oct. 9; their home was spared, but their empathy for the community is real and runs deep, and plays out in the mission of Transcendence and the big heart that is so palpable in their shows. They have also developed the “Rise Up & Recover Fund” to help support the communities of Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Santa Rosa and Sonoma. Proceeds will help to support fire victims, evacuees and first responders. To donate or for more information visit http://www.RiseUpAndRecover.org
Experiencing this big, bold holiday musical extravaganza, I felt my holiday season was truly launched; but more than that, I felt held in the arms of a caring, committed community, immersed in good intentions and a well-pitched call to action. So, don’t miss the next one. And have a terrific season of whatever you celebrate.
For more information about Transcendence: https://transcendencetheatre.org
P. S. Like so many, I had heard the horrible rumor that the LBC was burning down in the tragic fires; but thankfully, it was mostly spared, and this show at the Center was indeed a way to applaud the Phoenix rising from the ashes. LBC did sustain fire damage, so if you’re inclined to help with its repair, check out their webpage that details the extent of the damages and what you can do to help: https://lutherburbankcenter.org/lbc-fire-recovery-fund/