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Music in the park

What: Broadway Under the Stars

When: June 16-Sept. 10

Where: Jack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen

Information: transcendencetheatre.org

The shows:

June 16-July 2 — “Another Openin’, Another Show,” $45-$149

July 14-15 — “Fantastical Family Night,” $32-$149

Aug. 4-20 — “Fascinating Rhythm,” $45-$149

Sept. 8-10 — “Gala Celebration,” $45-$150


Transcendence Theatre Company might not have its own theater building so far, but its performers couldn’t hope for a better backdrop than the hills, stars and sky at Glen Ellen’s Jack London State Historic Park.

The company opens its sixth season of its popular “Broadway Under the Stars” series of outdoor musical revues Friday, June 16, with its usual high spirits, and even higher hopes.

The troupe’s long-stated aim of creating of its own original, full-length musical plays still remains a long-term goal, but this year’s opening effort, “Another Openin’, Another Show,” is another step in that direction.

This show, like previous Transcendence productions, is a fresh compilation of songs and dances from classic and current Broadway hits, old standards and pop tunes, but this time, there’s a back story.

“It’s about new beginnings,” said Amy Miller, the company’s artistic director and co-founder, who also will perform.

“We basically took traditional popular Broadway shows tunes, and some pop songs that were in musicals, and used them to explore Transcendence’s 10-year adventure that brought us all together.”

The story, filled with songs you already know and love, loosely traces the troupe’s beginnings as a group of young but seasoned performers with Broadway credits and national touring company experience.

Believing that is was possible to build a company committed to the dual values of professional performance and community service, the group’s founders spent four months in Mexico in 2008, performing and raising money for orphanages.

“I think that’s where we started walking our talk,” Miller said. “So, in the show, we do ‘Walk Like a Man’ from ‘Jersey Boys,’ We’re just expanding our storytelling a little bit through the songs. Those who are familiar with Transcendence will get it, and the others can just enjoy the songs.”

The founders’ planning and dreaming went on for years, culminating in with a cross-country road trip to find the perfect venue for the troupe to plant its roots, which finally led them to the Jack London Park.

In October 2011, the performers did a one-night, open-air performance in the old winery ruins, a test run for which they received an enthusiastic local response. The first full summer season followed in 2012.

When Transcendence launched its first “Broadway Under the Stars” series, the troupe’s trio of core founders — Miller, her husband Brad Surosky, and their friend Stephan Stubbins — declared their intention to settle in Sonoma County for good.

And they’ve done just that, and grown. Many of their theatrical colleagues, all with Broadway credits or national touring experience or both, have followed their lead. Now 16 full-time Transcendence staff members live in Sonoma County.

One of them is Eric Jackson, who will direct “Fascinating Rhythm,” one of four live shows that Transcendence will present this summer during its sixth season, continuing through early September.

The Transcendence company started small and grew through personal contacts the founders had made during their early careers and by word of mouth.

“I knew Stephan Stubbins from our time of living together in New York and having own little business venture, educating students from the arts colleges about the realities of the business side of being a performer in New York City,” Jackson said.

Music in the park

What: Broadway Under the Stars

When: June 16-Sept. 10

Where: Jack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen

Information: transcendencetheatre.org

The shows:

June 16-July 2 — “Another Openin’, Another Show,” $45-$149

July 14-15 — “Fantastical Family Night,” $32-$149

Aug. 4-20 — “Fascinating Rhythm,” $45-$149

Sept. 8-10 — “Gala Celebration,” $45-$150

At Stubbins’ invitation, Jackson came out to Sonoma County to help with the first Transedence trial show at the Jack London park in October 2011, which led to the kick-off of the first “Broadway Under the Stars” season the following summer. He has participated every summer since then. Finally, he moved to Sonoma two years ago.

“Initially, I was only cast for one show, but I was so obsessed with the community, as well as the experience of performing where it’s about being of service, that I asked to stay,” Jackson said. “And I’ve been coming back ever since.”

In addition to the live performances, Transcendence maintains several outreach programs, including training for aspiring young performers. During its tenure at the Jack London park in Glen Ellen, the company has drawn 81,000 visitors to date, and raised $267,000 for the park.

Beyond the summer performances, the company has gone on to add annual holiday shows at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Earlier this year, Transcendence also introduced spring shows at Burbank Center and Marin Center in San Rafael.

“The company is growing, so there’s a need for performers to move here, but the people who chose to stay here really wanted to,” Miller said. “They’re attracted to the mission of the company and its connection to the community. It’s also a lifestyle choice that’s so different from being a free-lance actor. People want to settle down.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.