Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Beat Goes On
Transcendence Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas

Elise Frances Daniells, Jenna Lea Rosen, Tray Wright,
Juli Biagi, Joseph Lee, and Carl Draper

Photo by Rob Martel
Musical revues are sort of the cotton candy of theatre: pleasant, but lacking in substance. In short, ephemeral, wispy ... and gone in a moment. You put together a few songs, usually well-known ones, maybe linked by a theme, and it's a recipe for a evening of light entertainment. But if you're the pros at Transcendence Theatre Company, that's not nearly enough. With a TTC production (and they've staged several dozen over the years), you're going to get a terrific cast backed by a top-notch band–but more than that, you're going to see an attention to detail, direction, storytelling, and performance that lifts their revues to new levels of excellence.

So it was (for the most part–more on minor disappointments later) with this season's first TTC revue, The Beat Goes On, which wowed the crowd this past weekend at Belos Cavalos in Kenwood in Sonoma County, and continues on through July. TTC normally stages their shows in the Winery Ruins at nearby Jack London State Park, but due to a lawsuit requiring a study of the impact TTC shows have on the park, a new venue was required. With short notice, TTC managed to create a perfectly lovely alternative on Belos Cavalos' 30-acre property.

The Beat Goes On takes the audience through a tour of songs from the 1960s, '70s and '80s–perfect for a crowd composed almost entirely of baby boomers, for whom the songs are a soundtrack of our youth. Not unlike the stage show of Moulin Rouge, The Beat Goes On packs more than 70 songs (or snippets thereof) into its two-hour running time. The show moves chronologically through the decades, starting with the '60s, with songs from artists as varied as The Beatles, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Buffalo Springfield, and many more.

The cast, under the direction of Susan Draus, perform these selections with tremendous commitment. They are never merely singers or dancers moving in time to music, but always inhabiting a character. Watch any member of the cast–even any chorus member upstage–and you'll see them playing a jilted lover or a zoned-out beatnik or an angry protestor–or any of a number of personae.

One of the hallmarks of Transcendence Theatre's productions is their attention to detail. You will experience this not only with the efficiency of their operation (ticketing, parking, concessions–everything runs smoothly), but also in every element of their shows. Consider the satellite stage built for this show. In addition to providing seating for the string players, it is also dressed like a teenager's bedroom, with posters of musical acts on the wall that changed as the decades did. It also becomes a stage where small theatrical moments take place, like two performers pretending to try smoking for the first time while the rest of the cast performs Dobie Gray's "The 'In' Crowd." It seemed every time I glanced over to this stage, something theatrical was happening.

The costumes (by Jenny Foldenauer, assisted by Jenna Morris, Agnes-Arabelle Sommier and Ty Schoeningh) match each era with color and vibrancy. (Though I am at a loss for why four of six women are in Mondrian print dresses and the other two wear colorful but somewhat clashing patterns, while all six of the men in the same number are in similarly-flowered shirts.)

The performers themselves were universally excellent, but Aaron LaVigne (whom I saw play the title role in the 50th anniversary touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar) stands out for his soaring tenor. Kelli MacMillan, who sings Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" had me worried during the first few bars of the song, as she struggled a bit with her lower register. But when she works her way up into the higher notes, wow–what a tone! All the power of that song comes pouring out.

The segment of protest songs from the '60s is a very powerful portion of the show, and when they sing "There's a man with a gun over there..." that 50+ year old Buffalo Springfield tune is oddly, and sadly, timely.

While the first 2/3 of the show–the '60s and '70s–is brilliantly done, the final segment, focusing on '80s music (leg warmers aplenty, but no parachute pants?), seems to drag a bit. The songs are less iconic, and though some numbers are terrific (especially "Love Shack" and "Livin' on a Prayer"), the segment doesn't jell quite as nicely as the rest of the show.

Despite this, The Beat Goes On is a terrific evening's entertainment. If you've seen previous TTC shows and liked them, you'll be happy you got a ticket for this one, too. If you've never made the trek to Sonoma, what are you waiting for? You still have two weekends to catch the beat.

The Beat Goes On runs through July 2, 2023, at Transcendence Theatre, Belos Cavalos, 687 Campagna Lane, Kenwood CA. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Ticket range from $35 - $160. "Gold Level" tickets includes VIP parking, two glasses of wine and admission to the pre-show lounge. Tickets and additional information can be found at