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40 years in making, ex-Tiburon composer’s ‘The Divine Sarah’ becomes a reality on stage

June Richards and former Tiburon resident Elaine Lang Ockner (right) were on hand at The Barn Theater in Ross on March 4 during the Ross Valley Players’ rehearsals of their work ‘The Divine Sarah,’ which is being staged for the first time since they wrote it four decades ago. (via Elaine Lang Ockner)

The musical biography of stage icon Sarah Bernhardt, “The Divine Sarah,” premieres this week at Ross Valley’s Barn Theater, but for former Tiburon resident Elaine Lang Ockner and her longtime friend and collaborator, the project is four decades and a pandemic breakthrough in the making.

 

In 1979, Ockner — a pianist, composer and musical director — met actress June Richards, the creator and head of the drama department at Dominican University in San Rafael. Together they began working on the cream of quality theater productions, from “Babes in Arms” to “The Wizard of Oz” to a Rodgers and Hart production.

 



With children close in age who knew each other through Bel Aire Elementary School — Ockner wrote the school song, “Bel Aire Spirit,” in September 1970 — the pair also became fast friends, leading to all-new collaborations.

 

One was an original musical story, “The Day After Happily Ever After,” a humorous fairy tale that follows a princess who marries a prince. But when she moves into the castle, she examines her choice with songs like Ockner’s “This is My Life Now.” There was a reading, but the play was never produced.

 

The duo tried another original production, a musical based on the life of Bernhardt, a great star of the stage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with two acts and some 16-17 original songs. But the project stalled, never professionally read or produced — until now.


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