On Theater: ‘Godspell’ rocks its reprise at Vanguard

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Having finally “discovered” the rock musical “Godspell” in 2008, Vanguard University has rediscovered it, this time as a production of the college’s summer professional arm, the American Coast Theater Co.

Vanda Eggington, who directed the earlier version, returns to helm this one. She again uses a theater warehouse with props from past shows as a backdrop and brings the dialogue into the 21st century with the 1970s-flavored songs of creators Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, including the hit single “Day By Day.”

Eggington also choreographs the ACTC rendition, this time blessed with the talents of some advanced artists, including recent Vanguard graduates. The result is a stronger, more intricate retelling of Jesus’ life, teachings, death and resurrection.


The centerpiece of any “Godspell” is its Jesus, and Ryan Miller fills this role extraordinarily, gleefully going with the flow of comedy in the first act before turning tragically serious in the second. It’s an exhausting performance by one of Vanguard’s most impressive alumni.

The eight performers who comprise the ensemble take on a litany of characterizations as they enact the various biblical parables. Joanna Beyer and James Michael McHale are the most striking members of a troupe, which includes splendid renditions from Bethany Hamrick, Kelly Hinkle, Donna Louden, Tim Lavino, Lucas Moore and Tim Woods.

This time around, however, Eggington has chosen to include the superfluous prologue of actors representing various historical scholars — Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, da Vinci, Sartre, etc. — and their philosophical bickering culminates in a moment resembling TV’s “The View” with all chattering at once and no substance emerging.

Once the actual show begins, the actors stretch their talent muscles in a show that has the feel of improvisation but reflects painstaking coordination. Eggington’s choreographic skills are beautifully displayed in the ensemble numbers “Light of the World,” which closes the first act, and “We Beseech Thee,” midway into the second as the actors don choir robes and weave through an intricately fashioned exercise.

The crucifixion sequence is particularly riveting as Miller is hoisted into the air on a metal cross, “buried” in a box and reappears magically in the audience. It’s an inspiring sequence whether or not you share the company’s religious views.

The four-piece combo under the leadership of pianist Janice Rodgers Wainwright sets a stirring pace without drowning out the actors’ lyrics. Rebekah Killam’s costumes, Paul Eggington’s scenic design and the lighting effects of Jonathan de Roulet all combine splendidly for a show whose effect isn’t tainted by its familiarity.

“Godspell” runs weekends through Aug. 21 in Vanguard’s Lyceum Theater.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: “Godspell”

Who: American Coast Theater Co.

Where: Lyceum Theater, Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 21

Cost: $20 to $25

Call: (714) 619-6424