With ‘Shine,’ hometown hero Jason Mraz turns a spotlight on celebrating inclusion
Community-based show, built around the music of the hit singer-songwriter, has him partnering with artists from numerous San Diego arts groups for big Spreckels Theatre production
There are lots of things you might call “Shine”: A joyous ode to the beauty of inclusion, a testament to the power of the arts, a sprawling onstage party with a purpose.
You could also call it — as Jason Mraz does — “a showcase of some awesome arts-education organizations here in San Diego.”
But what not to call the show? Maybe a musical.
“It’s musical-ish,” Mraz says with a gentle laugh, talking about the large-scale, community-based production that hits the Spreckels Theatre stage next weekend for two sold-out performances.
You can forgive the hit-making, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and Oceanside resident for not quite getting around to a precise label for the project, which he will perform in alongside his band plus scores of young performers from local arts groups.
The man’s been pretty busy lately just getting the long-in-the-making show off the ground — a process that has included joining individual rehearsals with each of the half-dozen organizations (plus guest artists) involved.
But after the piece was announced last year, Mraz says, “I realized when I called it a ‘musical adventure’ that I needed to be more precise with that word ‘musical — because it has definitely led a lot of people to think, oh, I’ve written a musical!’”
So when an alternative description is posed during a phone interview, Mraz sounds happy to adopt it:
“It is a concert with a story. That’s a great way of putting it,” says Mraz of the work, which is built around his catalog of songs and is named for a tune from his 2014 album “Yes!”
Any confusion over the identity of “Shine” might be understandable, since Mraz did do a three-month stint two years ago in an actual Broadway musical, “Waitress” (alongside fellow singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, who wrote the show’s score).
But “Shine” is both a more loose-limbed and a more purposeful proposition than your typical Broadway show: The piece is meant to showcase the talents of the young artists involved and, as Mraz puts it, “to celebrate our unity through diversity.”
And while he played the love interest Dr. Pomatter in “Waitress,” in this show things are a little simpler: As Mraz says, “I get to play myself.”
The structure of “Shine” involves a journey around the San Diego community, with songs punctuating the stops along the way.
Mraz and his band “will do our best to provide the accompaniment for the songs,” he says. “But each song will be performed by a different group — whether it’s through dance or through instrumentation or through singing.”
There also will be “intros and finales that include everyone at the same time — probably 80 to 100 people onstage.”
(The key groups involved are the Wheelchair Dancers Organization, A Reason to Survive (ARTS), Banding Together, Malashock Dance, San Diego Queer Youth Chorus and transcenDANCE Youth Arts Project; see more details below.)
Even as Mraz spoke, a few weeks before the show’s debut, the story (written by his longtime collaborator Abby Dorsey) was in flux — a function of the collaborative aspect that’s at the very heart of the project.
As Mraz puts it, the work “can evolve depending on what kind of story (the artists) want to tell about their experience here in San Diego, or their experience on Earth. We’ve let the story be kind of a living document that each of the programs is breathing life into on their own.”
Finding a focus
Mraz says the seed for “Shine” was planted about three years ago, when he decided to refocus the work of the Jason Mraz Foundation, which was launched in 2011 and has since raised more than $1 million for a wide variety of charities.
The foundation was Mraz’s way of giving back after nearly a decade of pop success that began with the hit 2003 single “The Remedy” and grew to include album sales in the millions and worldwide touring behind such later hits as “I’m Yours” and “Make It Mine.”
That success had deep roots in San Diego, where the Virginia-raised Mraz moved in 1999 and began performing at Java Joe’s in Ocean Beach; he now lives (and surfs) in Oceanside, where he runs a family farm with his wife, Christina Carano.
As his foundation grew, Mraz says, there were “a lot of things I was writing checks for around the world,” from environmental protection to human-rights causes.
“I said, you know what, I want to focus on inclusive arts education and advancement of equality. I feel like that’s in my back yard and that’s what my profession is.”
That transition “took three years. The first year was, ‘Let’s visit 100 nonprofits in San Diego and see what’s happening. Let’s see what people are already doing.’”
From there, goals were refined and collaborations kindled. And now “Shine” serves as a kind of relaunch party.
“It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve stayed on schedule,” Mraz says. “And this is a blast, just being here doing this. And hopefully it will grow.
“Now after this year, we’ll have proof that we’re out there. We’re trying to do good — this is an example of some of the good we hope to continue to do in the world.
“And now that the public is more informed, maybe it’s something they would consider volunteering their time or dollars to, or even just shifting their perspective on how they view the arts. That would be just as valuable.”
In some ways, too, “Shine” brings Mraz full circle. The official video for “The Remedy” — the song that launched him to stardom — opens with a shot of a theater marquee.
The theater? The Spreckels, the historic downtown house where “Shine” takes the stage this weekend.
As Mraz says of the project: “It’s taking many hands, many many hours and much love to pull it off.”
But the impulse behind it goes back to the kind of transcendence Mraz experiences onstage, when “you just get tapped into a much bigger human experience.
“And you feel that music and performance and art in general can inform or can heal and unite audiences. Or humanity.”
A roundup of the groups involved in the show:
Wheelchair Dancers Organization: The San Diego-based organization provides free, adaptive dance classes and programs for the physically challenged; the group will be represented in “Shine” by Angelo and Gracie Sanchez.
A Reason to Survive (ARTS): Through free classes, internships and more, A.R.T.S. aims to “ignite the power of creativity in youth, inspiring them to overcome obstacles and providing them with the skills needed to become compassionate catalysts for positive change in themselves, their communities and the world.”
Banding Together: Launched in 2009 by Julie Guy and Angela Meier (co-founders of The Music Therapy Center of California), Banding Together provides a wide range of musical opportunities as well as scholarships for young people with autism and other special needs.
Malashock Dance: The renowned dancer-choreographer John Malashock founded this company (now based at Arts District Liberty Station) 32 years ago. Inclusion in education is a big part of its mission.
San Diego Queer Youth Chorus: The North Park-based organization “encourages and fosters artistic expression, personal development, and leadership in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and allied youth.”
transcenDANCE Youth Arts Project: Based in National City, transcenDANCE engages with teens in underserved local communities through dance, music and more.
Guest artists: Pan 4 Students/Steel Drums (Chloe Mickley, Kristhaly Carvajal, Michael Garcia and Ty Bogikes), Billy Galewood, Evan Ruggiero, Chris Caswell and Raining Jane will all be contributing on the musical side.
Also: While they’re not appearing onstage, students from San Diego State University helped design the “Shine” set and will be filming the show.
Voices on ‘Shine’
“One of the things that’s been quite touching is, we have a lot of teens in the mixed-ability group, with different cognitive abilities. And some of those student dancers are just huge fans of (Mraz’s). And so just to see their reactions, and to have him in the studio with his band playing and accompanying them just a couple of feet away, to have him dancing with them — it is just a dream come true for a lot of these students. It’s really quite special.”
— Molly Glynn Puryear, executive director, Malashock Dance
“It definitely has a local vibe to it, a ‘day in the life’ feel. There’s something really light and playful about what’s been created. And pure. Just pure. I think that’s really who Jason is.”
— Cat Corral, co-founder and executive/artistic director, transcenDANCE Youth Arts Project
“What really sparked the magic for a lot of (our students) was when Jason came to our first rehearsal unannounced — he just showed up. And it really set the tone for the entire experience for them. One of the things I’ve really appreciated about Jason and his foundation is that they’ve been so intimately involved. And I think the other thing I’ve really appreciated is his willingness to, no pun intended, let the students shine.”
— Angela Meier, co-founder, Banding Together
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 15; 3 p.m. Feb. 16.
Where: Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, downtown.
Tickets: Sold out.
Phone: (619) 235-9500
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