Review: “Shall We Dance” in Glen Ellen

Transcendence Theatre Company’s seventh season of “Broadway Under the Stars” continues with a dance-centric production entitled, appropriately enough, Shall We Dance. The show runs through August 19 at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.

Transcendence imports Broadway and national touring professionals to populate their productions so the caliber of performance is always quite high. Director Leslie McDonel and choreographer Marc Kimelman guide a cast of seventeen talented artists through a program featuring songs from eighteen Broadway shows like The King and I and Hamilton as well as pop hits from artists like Madonna and Ed Sheeran.

The show opened, as is tradition, with a passage from the writings of Jack London as introduced by a coterie of tap dancers. The audience was then welcomed by the full company with an amusing adaptation of “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast that replaced banquet table staples with wine varietals, though I’m not quite sure what dancing strawberries were doing on the stage.

The (mostly) fast-paced, forty minute first act included numbers from In the Heights, West Side Story, My Fair Lady and Kiss Me, Kate.  The highlight of the act was an energetic production of Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” which incorporated a variety of dance styles that complimented its swing roots. Things then slowed down with “Mama Who Bore Me” from Spring Awakening, which seemed tonally out of step in a mostly joyous program, before concluding on a lighter note with the hilarious “A Musical” from Something Rotten.

Act two featured dancing set to numbers from a diverse group of artists ranging from Janelle Monae (“Tightrope”) to Madonna (“Vogue”). The evening’s most visually striking moment came courtesy of a tango-infused production of Sting’s “Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge with the winery ruins bathed in red.

The juxtaposition between the diversity in dance styles and music selection with the lack of diversity among the cast is noticeable. For a company that imports a great deal of its talent from New York, the relatively small number of artists of color utilized is disappointing. Simply put, it’s jarring to have Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” and Michael Jackson’s “Bad” sung and danced by a bunch of white guys, talented as they may be.

It’s time for Transcendence’s casts to be as colorful as the costumes they wear.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★

‘Shall We Dance’ runs Friday–Sunday through August 19. Jack London State Historic Park. 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. Doors open for picnicking at 5pm; show starts 7:30pm. Tickets $45–$150. 877.424.1414. 

As originally published in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun.

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