Shall We Dance
Transcendence Theatre Company
Runs in Glen Ellen through August 19, 2018
Shall We Dance is superb entertainment and another hit from Transcendence Theatre Company in their “Broadway Under the Stars” 2018 summer season. The focus this time is on dance, Broadway-style, and the ensemble of performers are particularly adept at it, displaying technique and flair in equal abundance. The vocals are fine, too, and, just in case you’re thinking you miss some of those knockout singers the troupe is known for, there are a few numbers that will dispel that notion. You don’t want to miss this one, arguably the best show in the county right now.
The numbers pile up, one right after the other, each delivering a unique dance and staging and original musical arrangement that spell Transcendence’s signature style, mixing Broadway classics with newer ones and a few from the pop charts as well. Director Leslie McDonel, herself a recurring favorite performer with the company, expertly engineers the flow and keeps the concept high for maximum wow effect. “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast gets a clever lyrics update, while Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” shows off several excellent pairings. A fun rendition of “Why Can’t You Behave” (performed by Jess Coffman with Bryan Hunt) segues into a rousing version of Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” The somber “Mama Who Bore Me,” sung with heart by Erika Conaway, Kayley Anne Collins, and Stephanie Jae Park, is followed by the terrifically funny “A Musical,” featuring Carl Draper, Lori Haley Fox and the full company.
Act 2 steps up the action even more, with clever mash-ups— like the 1-2 punch from Rocky, or something called “Bad Boys” that manages to get Dr. Dre and Leonard Bernstein in the same number. The pairing of “Be Italian” from Nine with Madonna’s “Vogue” is simply inspired, creating ample opportunity for “moving to the music.” “Roxanne” is delivered in the manner of the new musical, Moulin Rouge (based on the Luhrman movie), giving us an amazing tango pas de deux in the process. Of course humor abounds throughout the show, in many comic touches that keep it light-hearted and fun.
New company member Stephanie Jae Park shines in “The Man I Love,” giving Gershwin a contemporary spin with sufficient homage. But wait for her brilliant rendition of “Dancing on My Own,” in a surprising and haunting arrangement by Matt Smart— you may not recognize the song, but you will never forget Park’s performance.
McDonel and her team have put together a fabulous evening’s entertainment, a celebration of dance and song that is truly memorable and a feast for fans of the Broadway style. Choreography by associate director and choreographer Marc Kimelman with his associate Aimee Lane sparkles with verve and originality. Music direction by Daniel Emerson Weidlein, assisted by Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer, gets marvelous sound from the ensemble and a small orchestra, and showcases new and exciting arrangements. Kristina Martin’s costumes are a bit on the banal side, but do create a relatively neutral palette that avoids distraction.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Transcendence Theatre Company, and have seen most of their shows since 2013. This show, the third in the 2018 summer season, continues a happy trend of improvements in show structuring and overall excellence that can’t be beat. The “summer full of awesome” that I predicted after seeing Stairway to Paradise gets full treatment with Shall We Dance, and definitely deserves “Don’t Miss” status. You just might find yourself dancing your way out of Jack London Park, filled with the good vibes from an evening of terrific performance.
[Note to newcomers to the venue: Arrive early to enjoy the festive ambience TTC creates in Jack London Park. Bring your own picnic or purchase from an array of food trucks (don’t bring your own alcohol). But don’t forget to bring warm layers— it’s an outdoor venue, and can get chilly after the sun goes down.]
Shall We Dance, by Leslie McDonel, Marc Kimelman, Aimee Lane, Daniel Emerson Weidlein, and Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer, presented by Transcendence Theatre Company, Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen, through August 19, 2018. Tickets $49.00-$145.00 can be purchased online at https://transcendencetheatre.org/ or by phone at 877-424-1414, ext. 1.
Featured photo: The “Roxanne” Tango. Photo: Ray Mabry.