Pick! ASR  Theater ~~ RVP’s New Works Musical Celebrates “The Divine Sarah”

By Cari Lynn Pace

As a child, when I was being overly whiney or dramatic, asking my mom for some permission, she would sometimes ask, “Who are you, Sarah Bernhardt?”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I know it had something to do with my pleading going over the top.

Ross Valley Players exalted and explained my mom’s response, going over the top with their new work, The Divine Sarah, directed by award-winning Jay Manley. Prior to the opening, Manley noted, “It’s always a challenge to present a new show.”

… a well-crafted story …

In this reviewer’s eyes, the challenge has been met and exceeded admirably. Manley’s assemblage of talented actors and singers, with an original script and songs by June Richards and Elaine Lang, gave RVP a full house on opening night and a standing ovation.

Merrill Grant as Sarah Bernhardt at RVP. Photos by Robin Jackson

So—who was this Sarah Bernhardt, beautifully channeled by Merrill Grant, and why was she so famous? The house lights dim …

The play begins in 1844 with narration punctuated by musical numbers. A large and well-rehearsed cast clad in fabulous period costumes by Michael A. Berg enters the stage flanked by musicians Jon Gallo on keyboards and Diana Lee on cello.

Sarah’s life as an unwanted child is delightfully sung by Alexandra Fry. Fry’s doppelgänger has to be Amanda Seyfried, that charmingly lovely songbird. RVP is fortunate to have such talent to cast in these local productions. Sarah pleads for love and acceptance from her dismissive mother, imperiously played by Anna L. Joham. No luck there, so Sarah is sent to a convent.

(L-R) The cast at work, including Julia Ludwig, Merrill Grant, Brad Parks, & Keith Jefferds. Photos by Robin Jackson

The balance of Act I recounts Sarah’s early washout as a dancer, actor, and singer. Rejected as talentless by school and theatre company alike, Sarah is kept moving on only by her mother’s wealthy and influential lover, a relative of the French Emperor, perfectly portrayed by RVP favorite Keith Jefferds.

By intermission at the end of Act I, one wonders when the star of the show will actually become a star.

Act II details Sarah’s path of flamboyance as she beings to conquer a war-weary Paris. She’s a notorious rebel, a single unmarried mother, a femme fatale with multiple lovers. She’s exotic, and hailed as the “Goddess of the Left Bank.” Beautiful Sarah flaunts convention and is expert at self-promotion.

She acts with overt drama onstage, dismisses lovers when it suits her career path, writes and publishes a book with her own illustrations, and styles herself as the high fashion influencer of her time. She spends more than she makes, tempting seizure of her assets. Sarah is a diva, a celebrity famous for being famous. All this without social media of the sort we have today!

(L-R) The cast of “The Divine Sarah” at work at The Barn. Photos by Robin Jackson

Throughout The Divine Sarah the cast stays impressively true to their characters. Kudos to Director Manley for drawing out gestures and facial expressions to pull in the audience. The plot at times reads like a soap opera, and one wonders if perhaps it might benefit from a bit of trimming, but the actors are all a pleasure to watch.

Love or dismiss the woman at the center of the story, but you’ll remember RVP’s The Divine Sarah as a well-crafted story of a woman who shattered conventions — and raised a glass of champagne while doing it. Go see it!


ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net


ProductionThe Divine Sarah
Written byJune Richards and Elaine Lang
Directed byJay Manley
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru April 7th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Telephone415-456-9555 ext. 1
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!