Guide to summer theater in Sonoma County

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If You Go

Summer theater productions cover a wide range, from drama to musicals and from classics to new locally written plays. Here are the highlights:

June 14 — “A Chorus Line” opens the Transcendence Theatre Company “Broadway Under the Stars” season at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, and runs through June 30. The rest of the season includes: “Fantastical Family Night,” July 19-20; “Those Dancin’ Feet,” Aug. 9-25; “Gala Celebration,” Sept. 6-9. Ticket prices vary per show, but range from $35 to $149. transcendencetheatre.org

June 14-30 — “Half-Life: A Love Story,” a locally written new musical by Bob Duxbury and John Shillington, with music by Janis Wilson, based on the life story of Willard Libby, Sebastopol native and Nobel Prize winner. Closes Main Stage West, 104 Main St., Sebastopol. $15-$30. 707-823-0177, mainstagewest.com

Through June 16 — “Billy Nobody,” written by Sonoma County playwright Stanley Rutherford. Opened May 24. Pegasus Theater Company at the Mt. Jackson Masonic Lodge, Third and Church Streets, Guerneville. $15-$18. 800-838-3006, pegasustheater.com

June 21 — The ABBA musical “Mama Mia!” opens the Summer Repertory Theatre season at Santa Rosa Junior College, and runs through Aug. 10. Four other shows also will be presented in rotation during the season: “The 39 Steps,” June 25-July 31; “Bonnie & Clyde,” June 29-Aug. 8; “Pippin,” July 12-Aug. 7; “Sylvia,” July 8-Aug. 14. $25-$28. 707-527-4307, summerrep.com

Through June 22 — “Macbeth: The Witches’ Cut,” edited from Shakespeare by Avilynn Pwyll. Opened May 31. Curtain Call Theatre, 20347 Highway 116, Monte Rio. $15-$20; closing night gala June 22, $50. 707-524-8739, curtaincallrussianriver.com. Through June 23 — “The Barber of Seville,” opera by Gioachino Rossini, English adaptation by Donald Pippin. Opened June 7. Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. $37-$40. 707-763-8920, cinnabartheater.org

June 28-July 14 — Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” live musical adaptation of the cult movie. Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North St., Healdsburg. $10-$35. 707-433-6335, raventheater.org

Through June 30 — “Drumming with Anubis,” written by Sonoma County playwright David Templeton. The Egyptian Lord of the Dead drunkenly crashes the annual camping trip of four middle-aged metal music fans. Opened June 7. Left Edge Theatre, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, just north of Santa Rosa. $25-$40. leftedgetheatre.com

Through July 7 — “West Side Story,” the classic musical by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. 6th Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. $22-$35. 707-523-4185, 6thstreetplayhouse.com

July 13-28 — “The 39 Steps,” adapted by Patrick Barlow from the classic thriller by John Buchan, from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock. Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, 209 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale. $12-$25. 707- 894-2214, cloverdaleperformingarts.com

July 12-28 — “My Fair Lady,” the classic Lerner Loewe musical about urchin Eliza Doolittle. Sonoma Arts Live on the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. $28-40. 707-206-1668, sonomaartslive.org

Aug. 30-Sept. 22 — “Eureka Day,” by Jonathan Spector. Spreckels Theatre Company, Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Season tickets: $87-$155. 707-588-3400, spreckelsonline.com

Live theater is a vital part of Sonoma County’s summer tradition, with Summer Repertory Theatre at Santa Rosa Junior College dating back to 1972, and Transcendence Theater Company opening its eighth annual “Broadway Under the Stars” season at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.

This summer of theater gets under way Friday, as Transcendence presents its first full musical production, “A Chorus Line,” after seven seasons of song and dance revues staged by performers with Broadway and national touring company credits. This show is a perfect choice for this company since the people in the show have lived the life it depicts, it producers say.

For James Newman, artistic director of Summer Repertory Theatre, his company’s return next weekend to the Santa Rosa campus is especially exciting, because last summer the season was canceled for the first time in the program’s long history, to allow more time for the massive, $28 million renovation of the college’s Burbank Auditorium.

The renovation project will continue through this summer but a semi-permanent structure dubbed the Summer Rep Pavilion has been erected to house three of the season’s five shows, including the opener, “Mamma Mia!” The other two shows will be in Newman Auditorium, long used as a secondary venue for Summer Repertory Theatre.

Another Sonoma County theater tradition is honored this summer with an original, locally written show: “Half Life,” a musical based on the life of Sebastopol native and Nobel Prize winner Willard Libby. Created by Janis Wilson, John Shillington and Robert Duxbury, the show opens Friday and will run through the end of the month — appropriately — at the Main Stage West in downtown Sebastopol.

An illustrious and controversial figure during his lifetime, Libby (1908-1980) won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1960 for his work on radiocarbon dating. During World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the hydrogen bomb.

“A lot of people know about him, and a lot of people don’t, but very few people know how right wing his politics were,” Shillington said. “I wanted to write something about someone famous from Sebastopol.”

With music by Wilson, lyrics and direction by Shillington and a script by Duxbury, the show aims for a playful and provocative look at America’s 20th-century history, with pop culture references to such icons as Betty Crocker.

“Half Life” isn’t the only new local show playing this summer. Other current productions of new works include the Pegasus Theater staging of “Billy Nobody,” by Sonoma County playwright Stanley Rutherford, closing this weekend in Guerneville, as well as “Drumming with Anubis” by local journalist and playwright David Templeton, presented by the Left Edge Theatre and Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

At Transcendence, co-founder Amy Miller — who is directing “A Chorus Line,” said she has starred in the show herself in a professional production in Michigan and another in Florida, where she met her husband, Brad Surosky, co-executive director and a co-founder of Transcendence.

“Transcendence wouldn’t be here without ‘A Chorus Line,’” Miller said. “To me, the heart and soul of ‘A Chorus Line’ is the heart and soul of Transcendence. Each person comes in with their own story and the inspiration to go after their dreams.”

If You Go

Summer theater productions cover a wide range, from drama to musicals and from classics to new locally written plays. Here are the highlights:

June 14 — “A Chorus Line” opens the Transcendence Theatre Company “Broadway Under the Stars” season at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, and runs through June 30. The rest of the season includes: “Fantastical Family Night,” July 19-20; “Those Dancin’ Feet,” Aug. 9-25; “Gala Celebration,” Sept. 6-9. Ticket prices vary per show, but range from $35 to $149. transcendencetheatre.org

June 14-30 — “Half-Life: A Love Story,” a locally written new musical by Bob Duxbury and John Shillington, with music by Janis Wilson, based on the life story of Willard Libby, Sebastopol native and Nobel Prize winner. Closes Main Stage West, 104 Main St., Sebastopol. $15-$30. 707-823-0177, mainstagewest.com

Through June 16 — “Billy Nobody,” written by Sonoma County playwright Stanley Rutherford. Opened May 24. Pegasus Theater Company at the Mt. Jackson Masonic Lodge, Third and Church Streets, Guerneville. $15-$18. 800-838-3006, pegasustheater.com

June 21 — The ABBA musical “Mama Mia!” opens the Summer Repertory Theatre season at Santa Rosa Junior College, and runs through Aug. 10. Four other shows also will be presented in rotation during the season: “The 39 Steps,” June 25-July 31; “Bonnie & Clyde,” June 29-Aug. 8; “Pippin,” July 12-Aug. 7; “Sylvia,” July 8-Aug. 14. $25-$28. 707-527-4307, summerrep.com

Through June 22 — “Macbeth: The Witches’ Cut,” edited from Shakespeare by Avilynn Pwyll. Opened May 31. Curtain Call Theatre, 20347 Highway 116, Monte Rio. $15-$20; closing night gala June 22, $50. 707-524-8739, curtaincallrussianriver.com. Through June 23 — “The Barber of Seville,” opera by Gioachino Rossini, English adaptation by Donald Pippin. Opened June 7. Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. $37-$40. 707-763-8920, cinnabartheater.org

June 28-July 14 — Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” live musical adaptation of the cult movie. Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North St., Healdsburg. $10-$35. 707-433-6335, raventheater.org

Through June 30 — “Drumming with Anubis,” written by Sonoma County playwright David Templeton. The Egyptian Lord of the Dead drunkenly crashes the annual camping trip of four middle-aged metal music fans. Opened June 7. Left Edge Theatre, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, just north of Santa Rosa. $25-$40. leftedgetheatre.com

Through July 7 — “West Side Story,” the classic musical by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. 6th Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. $22-$35. 707-523-4185, 6thstreetplayhouse.com

July 13-28 — “The 39 Steps,” adapted by Patrick Barlow from the classic thriller by John Buchan, from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock. Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, 209 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale. $12-$25. 707- 894-2214, cloverdaleperformingarts.com

July 12-28 — “My Fair Lady,” the classic Lerner Loewe musical about urchin Eliza Doolittle. Sonoma Arts Live on the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. $28-40. 707-206-1668, sonomaartslive.org

Aug. 30-Sept. 22 — “Eureka Day,” by Jonathan Spector. Spreckels Theatre Company, Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Season tickets: $87-$155. 707-588-3400, spreckelsonline.com

In this production of “A Chorus Line,” the lead role of Cassie will be played by Kristin Piro, who has never done the show before, but has four other major shows in New York. To take the part, she took a leave of absence from the touring company “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” where she has been working as dance captain and “swing,” or understudy for multiple roles.

“ ‘A Chorus Line’ was such a wonderful offer for me,” Piro said. “It’s a labor of love. The story feels so real for everybody in the show. In a professional theater career, you ask yourself it’s worth the heartache, physical pain and rejection. It’s a tough business, so you have to love it to do it.”

At Transcendence, Piro said, performers find a haven, which was one of the founding principles of the company.

“It’s so special out here, in that it allows you to be artistic in your own way, in a safe space,” she said. “When you’re working for big-time producers who want a lot of money, sometimes you lose that heart.”

For Newman, now in his 13th year at Summer Repertory Theatre, having to forgo last summer’s season was a painful sacrifice.

“It was tough, but it was necessary. It made everyone sad. People would say to me, ‘We really miss SRT,’ ” Newman said.

But it turned out there was a hidden benefit from the hiatus.

“I was able to refocus on being part of the reconstruction effort,” he said. “I will understand a lot more about the new building.”

The newly upgraded Burbank Auditorium building is scheduled to open in November with a Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts Department production of “The Sound of Music.” The addition of a new studio theater in the same building eventually will provide a home for the kind of smaller production often presented in the Newman Auditorium lecture hall.

Meanwhile, this summer the SRT season presents its usual five shows, with “Bonnie & Clyde” and “Pippin” in the rotation, and “The 39 Steps” and “Sylvia” in Newman Auditorium.

“‘Mamma Mia!’ is a treat, with a singalong dance number at the end,” Newman said. “‘Bonnie & Clyde,’ is newish, with contemporary country music. We’re setting ‘Pippin’ in a superhero universe with Marvel-style costumes. ‘Sylvia’ is an audience favorite about empty-nesting New York couple. The man brings home a stray dog and becomes very close to it, much to the chagrin of his longtime wife. And ‘The 39 Steps’ is Alfred Hitchcock meets Monty Python. Two clowns play 40 characters.”

Last summer’s missed season hasn’t diminished the audience’s enthusiasm for Summer Repertory Theatre, Newman said. “People are really excited about our coming back.”

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

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