There is music in the air this spring, and a lot of it is coming from live local stage shows all over Sonoma County.
During the next month or so, audiences can see such classic musicals as "The Fantasticks" in Cloverdale, "Cabaret" at Santa Rosa's 6th Street Playhouse and "Jesus Christ Superstar" at Santa Rosa Junior College.
And if you're looking for something different, the Narrow Way Stage Company will present "Reefer Madness, The Musical," based on the infamous 1938 cult film, at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center next month.
But the county's theaters also offer plays that deal with music in other ways, like "Stand by Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story" at the Cinnabar in Petaluma and Tom Stoppard's "Rock and Roll" at Sonoma State University.
Over the past couple of years, Elizabeth Craven, former executive director of the 6th Street Playhouse, has made a specialty of song-driven dramas about music stars.
Her first effort in this category, "Always ... Patsy Cline" sold out three local runs, and went on to play the Wells Fargo Center and the Uptown Theatre in Napa.
"We estimated the show has played to 15,000 people," Craven said.
Craven followed up with "Hank Williams: Lost Highway," and last year she formed the Heritage Musical Theatre to stage "Woody Guthrie's American Song," which opened in December for a month-long, sold-out run at the Cinnabar.
And tonight, Craven opens "Stand by Your Man," starring Shannon Rider as country star Tammy Wynette, also at the Cinnbar.
The show features a live stage band and 26 classic hit tunes, but it's not a tribute concert, Craven said.
"The play spans 44 years of her life. During the course of the evening, we meet all five of her husbands," she explained.
"One of the reasons that we do these stories is that what the public usually knows about these music stars is just what their managers and image-makers have left us with, and there is so much more to their lives. It's surprising to people when they hear these stories," Craven added.
Heritage Music Theatre is one of several Sonoma County theater companies that banded together to keep the lights on at Main Stage West, formerly the Sonoma County Repertory Theater, in downtown Sebastopol.
Each of the companies will stage productions there, while continuing to perform at other local venues. Heritage Music Theatre will put on two encore performances of "Woody Guthrie's American Song" April 29 and May 1 at Main Stage West.
"Rock and Roll," opening tonight in Sonoma State University's Person Theatre, is about the political change in Eastern Europe, and spans the years from 1968 to 1998.
The protagonist, Jan, is allowed to bring his vinyl collection of great rock music to Prague, and songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Velvet Underground and others form the soundtrack for his story.
"Over the course of the play, the audience hears fabulous rock bands as music moves to the center of the dissident movement in Czechoslovakia," said director Paul Draper,<NO1><NO> chairman of the Department of Theater Arts and Dance at SSU.
No matter what a show's subject might be, music adds meaning and emotion, whether it's about agents of political change breaking on through to the other side, or Tammy Wynette dealing with "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" one more time.
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