Transcendence Theatre’s ‘Road Trip’ – a perfect reminder of why live performance matters
At the opening night of Transcendence Theatre’s ‘Road Trip,’ it was hard to tell who was enjoying themselves more – the performers or the audience. During an uplifting evening that also more than once brought tears to my eyes, everyone on and off the stage was visibly thrilled to be part of a live theatre experience, after so many months without. It was a perfect reminder of why live performance matters.
‘Road Trip’ is built around a collection of songs that Transcendence describe as ‘more pop-y’ than a typical show. In a two-hour trip around the nation, nine singer/dancers took us energetically from California via Route 66 to Colorado, to Sweet Home Chicago, to Georgia, Disney World, New York, New York, Virginia, Texas and Vegas, Baby, with several other stops along the way. There was even an unexpected detour to an English Northern Town that is part of my own cultural background - which may explain why it brought a sudden lump to my throat - although the local audience seem to appreciate it too.
All nine performers threw heart and soul into their performances, supported by a very able band of musicians. Billy Cohen’s self-accompanied rendition of ‘Rocky Mountain High’ was a highlight for me; hits such as ‘Dancing in the Street’ got the audience clapping, and ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ predictably brought cheers at the end. The choreography was smart, the dancers were sharp, the voices were excellent, the humor was well-judged, and the musicians were rhythmically tight. Wrapped around it all was a patriotic – but not jingoistic – commitment to creating an inclusive nation that felt very much key to this moment in time and something that live performance is well-positioned to help create. In fact, as the multi-diverse performers from across America stood together in line to sing the words ‘my country,’ I found myself wondering if they all felt as included in the real world as they were here.
As a newcomer to Sonoma County, it was my first experience of an event that has become an annual tradition for many – apart from last year, and if there was one thing Transcendence didn’t want to do, it was focus on last year. In her introduction to the show, which made no reference to the pandemic, Transcendence’s artistic director Amy Miller exuberantly announced, “We will rebuild!” With an offering like ‘Road Trip,’ they deserve to – and I plan to make a Transcendence show my annual tradition too.
One last point – because much though we also might not want to think about the pandemic, it is unquestionably still among us – Transcendence’s website “highly recommends” wearing a mask. However, my companion and I and the couple next to us were of a very small number who did so. The event is outdoors, but the seats are very close together. Frankly, we felt safer with them on. Fortunately, the evening was exhilarating enough to forget that we were wearing them or indeed, for a couple of hours, that the pandemic existed at all.
Transcendence Theatre’s ‘Road Trip’ outdoors production, directed and choreographed by Jessica Lee Coffman with music director Susan Draus, runs until August 29 outdoors at Jack London State Historic Park. Tickets and details of all Transcendence’s upcoming shows are at https://transcendencetheatre.org/2021-season-2/