“The Beat Goes On” and on and on at Costa Mesa’s Vanguard University, but the third time is a charm.
Vanda Eggington's elaborate tribute to pop music in the last five decades of the 20th century has been staged twice before as a student production. This time around, it’s a scintillating extravaganza produced by the college’s professional adjunct, the American Coast Theater Company.
What was very good now approaches greatness as Eggington and super choreographer Brettlyn Schmitt-Lazaris put their considerable talents to work. Instead of merely choreographing, as she had on the first two outings, Schmitt-Lazaris now places her dancing skills on view as a high-kicking member of the energetic ensemble. She’d be a great addition to the Rockettes.
The show is a musical history lesson, chronicling American rock stylings from the 1950s through the 1990s. No matter what era you came of age in, there’s a segment especially for you in this high-voltage tuneful documentary.
The “fabulous Fifties” inaugurate the production with tributes to rock and roll legends like Bobby Darin, Fats Domino and, of course, Elvis Presley, who ignited the whole pop music craze. Fads of the period such as hula hoops and transistor radios come in for special mention.
The most dramatically contrasting decade, the 1960s, comes next, highlighted by the Beatles on one end and protest songs about the Vietnam War on the other. Flower children, the Haight-Ashbury scene and Woodstock all come in for special attention, along with the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
After intermission, the theme lightens appreciably as we experience the 1970s with cassette tapes, eight-track players and more laid-back musical styles. Disco arrives in force with the popularity of moves like “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever.”
The cry of “I Want My MTV” introduces the 1980s and the succession of youth bands highlighted by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Popular movies of the period (“Star Wars,” “A League of Their Own”) come in for a few seconds each of remembrance.
With the arrival of the 1990s, music has become more insular, with listeners plugged into their own devices. CDs have replaced tapes and soon will be superseded by MP3s. Jukeboxes are a thing of the past.
All of this is energetically illustrated by a 10-member company that, in addition to Schmitt-Lazaris, includes Robert Ball, Connor Berkompas, Josiah Dominguez, Megan Fox, Gabrielle Incremona, Nick Lazaris, Coryn McGowan, Natasha Reese and Scott Roberts.
Director and musical director Eggington also heads the tiny orchestra on piano. Costumer Lia Hansen has created a plethora of period outfits which lend visual appeal and authenticity. All in all, it’s a joyous experience.
“The Beat Goes On” is a highly ambitious project by a dedicated company now advanced to the professional level. It’s a rich and robust tribute to the music that accompanied a half-century of history.
IF YOU GO
What: “The Beat Goes On”
Who: American Coast Theater Company
Where: Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa (enter via Newport Blvd.)
When: Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7:30, Sundays at 2 p.m. through June 30
Information: (714) 668-6145; vanguardtickets.com
Tom Titus reviews local theater for TimesOC.