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World Premiere Musical 'Bottle Shock!' Debuts at CCAE

by Cassiopeia Guthrie, July 8, 2023

If there’s one thing that can be said about CCAE Theatricals, it is that they aren’t afraid to make bold moves. In their second world premiere in as many seasons, the production company’s newest offering, Bottle Shock! The Musical, is a celebration of the wine renaissance of California, based on the film of the same name. The musical runs through July 23.

The ensemble stands around the vineyards.
Cast of Bottle Shock! The Musical. Photo by Karli Cadel.

The story follows Chateau Montelena and its lawyer-turned vintner Jim Barrett, a Napa Valley local who hopes to keep his struggling business afloat, make great chardonnay, and inspire his son Bo to take life more seriously. Also working on site are winemaking assistant Gustavo and new intern and UC Davis student Sam Fulton. When British sommelier Steven Spurrier arrives, soliciting new wines for a blind taste-test due to take place in Paris, Jim sends him away, sure that it is a set-up meant to humiliate wine makers, but he can’t stop Bo from slipping Spurrier a couple of bottles for consideration.

As with all CCAE Theatricals productions in the company's short history, this new musical by Charles Vincent Burwell and James D. Sasser and under the direction of J. Scott Lapp with music direction of Vadim Feichtner is tackled lovingly by a young, vibrant cast. Among them, Emma Degerstedt shines as Samantha Fulton, an intern who hopes to ultimately make her own way in the wine world. Sam’s declaration that she is studying the art of viniculture, not just the science, is captured in particular during Degerstedt’s performance of the lyrical “Summer in a Bottle,” a tender recollection of the ways that our experiences are tied to moments, memories, and possessions; her execution is artful and elegant.

Bo and Sam chat midstage in front of a sunset.
Riddle and Degerstedt in Bottle Shock! The Musical. Photo by Karli Cadel.

Opposite Degerstedt is talented and charismatic Patrick Ortiz as Gustavo Brambilla, a vineyard employee with a uniquely sophisticated palate and a dream to have his own label. The duo have a beautiful duet in act 2 on Sam’s porch with lush ensemble back-up, and are later joined by Bo (Will Riddle) for a gorgeous trio, “Summer’s End.”

Speaking of Riddle, his character of Bo snuck up on me a bit, transforming him from a seemingly disengaged, careless player into a passionate advocate for his family’s business seamlessly; Riddle’s power belt and stage presence were phenomenal and stood out in his solo songs and featured riffs.

Another production highlight was the way the role of Steven Spurrier was leveraged by the scriptwriters and actor Louis Pardo to provide comedic relief. Pardo is expressive, but in a buttoned up way, and his moments of acclimating to California culture, his passion for wine, and his willingness to change read well from the stage and keep the plot moving and interesting.

The other talented principals for this production are determined winemaker Jim Barrett (T.J. Mannix) and effervescent, loving bar owner Jo Fangnani (Taylor Renee Henderson), appearing alongside ensemble castmates Michael Cavinder, Libby Johnston, Chase Lowary, Jonah Meyer, Joey Miceli, Ariel Silvana Murillo, Kelly Prendergast, S Rii, and Maybelle Shimizu, and a 6-piece band led by conductor/keyboardist Taylor Peckham.

The show is beautifully placed in the lush, verdant vineyards of Napa as well as a variety of indoor locations, an airport, and a contest venue in France. While these varied venues do require some malleability, scenic designer Jo Winiarski has created a winner, incorporating a variety of textures (vines, brick, adobe, and wood) as well as a series of interchangeable layers featuring rotating turntables that reveal an office and bar, expanding trellis vine rows, and a gorgeous backdrop evocative of rolling hills over great distance.

The cast stands in the barrel room, lit in pink and purple colors.
Cast of Bottle Shock! The Musical. Photo by Karli Cadel.

Lighting designer Zach Blaine takes advantage of this depth through well-placed LEDs, regal sunset effects, and shadows; the colors throughout the production and interplay of light and dark are truly gorgeous. Nathan Mendez steps in as intern director and fight director, crafting sparring scenes in which the use of physicality is effective and believable. Other designers working on the show are choreographer Toranika Washington, sound designer Jon Fredette, costume designer Janet Pitcher, hair and wig designer Peter Herman, and props master Holly Lapp.

It will be interesting to see what the reception is to this musical adaption of what is called “one of the top streamed wine-centric films of all time.” I’d wager that lovers of musicals, wine, the mid-70s, and a good zero-to-hero story will enjoy the buzz.

CCAE Theatricals’ Bottle Shock! The Musical runs at the California Center for the Arts Escondido Center Theatre through July 23.


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