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Flora Lynn Isaacson

Divine Sarah!

By March 21, 2024No Comments

Ensemble Photo by Robin Jackson

New Works at Ross Valley Players presents a delightful and entertaining new musical, The Divine Sarah by June Richards and Elaine Lang on stage now through April 7 at the Barn Theatre in Ross.

Lovely live music by Jon Gallo (Keyboard/Music Direction) and Diana Lee (Cello), fine direction by Jay Manley and the cast’s outstanding acting, singing and dancing bring Sarah Bernhardt’s incredible story to life. Co-producers Michael Cohen and Gina Pandiani hope this play will “honor Bernhardt’s artistic brilliance and inspire audiences with her passion, determination and resilience.”

Forty years ago Richards and Lang wrote and staged a reading of the play that included fourteen songs and ensemble music, but a full production never happened. Then a few years ago, Richards and Lang updated the script keeping the original music and songs in place. Next Manley agreed to direct the piece for Ross Valley’s New Works. He calls the show “a true labor of love,” and describes French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) as “a pioneering woman…magnetic…able to cast a spell on the great playwrights of her day,” (Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde and Edmund Rostand to name a few). He hopes the production brings “excitement, respect and awe for this magnificent star.”

Merrill Grant is brilliant playing Sarah, first as a young woman, then through the years as she develops into an accomplished actress and international celebrity. Grant’s singing is amazing and so is the voice of Lucas Michael Chandler who stands out in the role of Jean Mounet Sully, a fellow actor who became Bernhardt’s good friend and lover.

The other cast members show extraordinary talent and range playing multiple roles including Alexandra Fry (young Sarah /Regine), Keith Jefferds (Oscar Wilde/Czar Alexander III) and Robin Schild (Victor Hugo/Mark Twain). The rest of the company (Amy Dietz, Anna Joham, Julia Ludwig. Brad Parks and Ron Talbot) shines—their singing, dancing and acting adds much to the production.

Kudos to Ronald E. Krempetz (Scenic Design), Michael Walraven (Technical Director), Michael Berg (Costume Design), Michele Samuels (Lighting Design) and Lucas Chandler (Choreography) for the imaginative set, lovely costumes, creative lighting and wonderful dancing. Special recognition goes to John Diestler for giving the audience a look at the real Sarah Bernhardt with “Block” digital images of her placed all around the stage.

The New Works program presents new, original works by Bay Area playwrights and consists of a full production and staged readings on two nights each season. Along with The Divine Sarah, the four readings this season are AI Threesome by Joe Wolff, Dead People by Bridgette Data Portman (March 17), Cowboy and Widow by Lynn Lohr and Lance Belville with music by Dolan Ellis, Wayne Hamilton and Eric Peltoniemi and Swing Set by Keith Jefferds (March 24).

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players is The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarias, directed by Mary Ann Rodgers, May 10-June 9.