Review: On Theater: Vanguard’s ‘Beat’ still goes on

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The curriculum for the summer session at Costa Mesa’s Vanguard University is history — specifically the history of popular music in the last half of the 20th century — as the school’s home-grown production of “The Beat Goes On” returns for an encore, this time as a feature of Vanguard’s professional arm, the American Coast Theater Company.

Vanda Eggington, Vanguard’s musical theater instructor, wrote this show three years ago and directed its world premiere. She’s back staging the reprise, assisted in enormous measure by the terrific choreography of Bretlyn Schmitt-Lazaris, whose own high-kicking dance moves provide inspirational spark on stage.

“The Beat” begins in the 1950s as “rock ‘n’ roll” enters America’s musical lexicon. The show then moves into the turbulent Sixties where the Beatles, hippies and political assassinations provide an indelible backdrop.


Post-intermission, we get the Seventies and the disco craze, the Michael Jackson-fueled Eighties and, finally, the Nineties with their “for your ears only” devices. Snippets of songs from each era are featured, along with flashes of hit movies that punctuated the periods.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, demanding both musical talent and unbridled energy, both of which the Vanguard troupe possesses in abundance. No individual credits are offered, save for the show’s two narrators, Justin Budds and Grace Osimo, who set the stage for each segment and engage, at one point, in a mock-up of the Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First?”

Choreographer Schmitt-Lazaris headlines an anonymous but ambitious ensemble that includes Winter Bassett, Josiah Dominguez, Ashley Elizabeth, Gabrielle Incremona, Amanda Kasparian, Nick Lazaris, Kristina Leopold, Cornelius Lindsay, Scott Roberts and Ryan Schultze.

Eggington has set an exhausting pace and has adapted literally hundreds of melodies, each represented by a single lyric. Rear projections highlight the various time periods on the unit setting of Paul Eggington, who serves as a triple threat, being set designer, sound designer and technical director.

There’s a striking contrast between the “innocent” Fifties and the traumatic Sixties, which could have inspired a separate production by themselves. The differences between the next three decades seem minimal by comparison.

Costume changes are fast and furiously accomplished as Budds and Osimo mark time onstage with their transitional banter. Gabrielle Incremona has designed a plethora of outfits, guided by costume consultant Lia Hanson.

No matter which period you most identify with musically, there’s something for you in “The Beat Goes On,” an expanded version of an original 2014 production, running weekends through July at Vanguard University’s Lyceum Theater.

If You Go

What: “The Beat Goes On”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through July 30

Where: Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: $25 to $30

Information: (714) 619-6424 or visit

TOM TITUS reviews local theater.