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Transcendence Theatre Company’s ‘Broadway Holiday Spectacular’ sends message of love after Sonoma County fires

(L to R) Desireé Davar and Nicolas Dromard from Transcendence's holiday show at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. (Photo: Ray Mabry)

MICHAEL SHAPIRO,

A revue of classic Broadway musical numbers, the Transcendence Theatre Company’s holiday show is becoming a North Bay tradition. And this year, after the fires destroyed so many people’s homes and livelihoods, the show is taking on special resonance.

The “Broadway Holiday Spectacular,” Friday through Sunday in Santa Rosa, aims to bring people together through music and dance and give audience members their “best night ever” (or “best day ever” for matinees).

“Love is a big theme of the show,” said Amy Miller, artistic director for Transcendence. “And we celebrate that: Even though people have lost their homes, you can find that home is all of the people you love, not the possessions.”

At least one song, “Rise Up,” was added to the show after the disaster that struck the North Bay last month.

Transcendence is completing its sixth season, Miller noted, and has always been about overcoming obstacles and transcending limits.The theater company’s hauntingly prescient theme for the 2017 season is “Rise Up, We’re All in This Together.”

It’s ironic, since the theme was picked in 2016, Miller said.

“Our mission as a company has always stayed the same: Appreciate the present moment, be with your community, inspire people to go beyond usual limits,” she explained.

Transcendence is donating more than 1,000 tickets during its five-show run (two a day on Saturday and Sunday) to those left homeless by the fires and to first responders, said Transcendence co-executive director Stephan Stubbins.

The tickets were distributed through Transcendence partners including Sonoma Valley Rotary and Redwood Credit Union. And five percent of proceeds from ticket sales are going to fire relief efforts.

Stubbins, who like Miller, is a Transcendence actor and will appear in the holiday shows, said the recent disaster has heightened the theater company’s commitment to bring communities together.

He noted that the venue for the show, the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, was damaged by the fire and nearly consumed by the flames.

“I think it sends a message that we can create an energy so positive and inspiring and energizing to really be the phoenix rising from the ashes,” Stubbins said.

Many people displaced by the fires don’t want to talk about the disaster any more, he said.

“They want to find a way to laugh again and to feel a sense of family and normalcy,” Stubbins said. “This, more than ever, is a time when they feel they want to be connected with Transcendence.”

It’s “so much more than any song or any note or any performer or dance,” he added. “It’s about the energy, and that’s what we’re hearing from people that they really need right now.”

Transcendence, known for its summer shows at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, is closely connected to its audience. At the summer shows, the actors pour wine and tear tickets, mingling with theater-goers in the park.

“That connection is really what feeds us,” Stubbins said. “There’s no boundary between the audience and the performers.”

And though Transcendence shows can get a bit bawdy, they’re appropriate for kids.

“We get a lot of families that come to the show,” he said. After the fires, the performance is a way to “welcome in the holiday through this new lens that we have as a community.”

Sign language interpreters who worked with the hearing impaired to file police reports will be part of one routine in the Friday and Sunday shows, Stubbins said.

And the Sunday matinee will be fully signed for the hearing-impaired by interpreter Sandy McLennon. At least four families with hearing impaired members will be at that matinee, he said.

Miller, the artistic director, and her husband, Brad Surosky, who serves as co-executive director of Transcendence, live in Glen Ellen and evacuated at dawn on Oct. 9 as fires raced through the Valley of the Moon.

They left with nothing but their T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, expecting never to see their home again. The fire spared their house, but many homes in their area were turned to ash.

That feeling of being on the edge and overcoming adversity informs the holiday show, she said.

Actors are trained to empathize, to feel what others feel, even if they haven’t experienced events that trigger those emotions.

After seeing fires burn less than two blocks from her home, Miller said, “I know what this feels like. Having gone through that, I can empathize even more with people because I experienced part of what they went through.”

The aim of the holiday show is to transcend heartache and loss by moving forward, she said. “So it has a very uplifting theme.”

Theatrical productions can be healing because they combine music, dance and story, Miller said. The idea of musical theater is: “You are so excited about something that you can’t speak about it, you have to sing about it. You can laugh. It has a bunch of joy in it. And music allows people to have joy.”

This is the third year Transcendence has staged its holiday show at the Luther Burbank Center.

Miller initially heard that the theater had burned to the ground, but fortunately only part of the center caught fire. The main building survived with minimal damage.

“It’s a miracle, a gift, that it’s still standing, so we have a space to provide music and dance and healing to people that need it so much,” Miller said. “It’s a blessing that that it’s still there.”

One of the big numbers in the show is “Spread the Love Around” from “Sister Act: The Musical,” Miller said.

Another highlight is “Celebrate Me Home,” the Kenny Loggins holiday classic. “When we celebrate this year, we are going to be celebrating the home in our hearts, Stubbins said.

“That’s hopefully what we can do collectively for the families and especially for the children and for this whole community.”

Michael Shapiro is the author of “A Sense of Place.” He writes about travel and entertainment for national magazines and The Press Democrat.