It's A Gray Area: Musical shows we're 'Americans All'

OK, I have a natural bias. But I am encouraging you to go see the musical revue "Americans All," which is the first show of the new season for the Lyceum Theater at Vanguard University. And take your children with you.

What does Vanguard's brochure say about "Americans All"?

"It's a play. It's a musical. It's an inspirational musical revue that is cleverly presented in a high school classroom setting. 'Americans All' stresses the importance of making good choices in life, expanding horizons and having some fun along the way, as it delightfully travels through the cornerstones of American values and illuminates them through music, dialogue and poetry."

I have a bias because I wrote and composed the work, with substantial assistance from my arranger, Susan Boettger, a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music.

The motivation for the show came from my several years on the bench in Juvenile Court. From that observation post, it became obvious to me that many children were not receiving instruction and mentoring in ethical values, morals and making good choices.

Much of the reason for that deficiency is that most of the teaching of morality is religious-based, so doing that in public schools runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution. But "Americans All" is not religious-based whatsoever, so that is not a problem.

The show begins with the high school teacher singing, "How Can I Help Them to Be." He understands that most people can teach reading, writing and arithmetic, but he wants to show his students the possibilities of their lives, since we are on this planet for such a comparatively short time.

Then before the class begins, his students engage in a rap song, "Who Cares?" This number is led by a basketball star who sees no value in an education because he is going to make it in the NBA. Personally, I don't like rap songs, but I knew that the student performers would enjoy it, and they do. I think you will too.

Then once the class starts, one of the students throws a piece of paper on the floor without retrieving it. This gets the teacher's attention, and he turns the incident into the song "Pick It Up!" The focus of this song is not only to pick up the trash in your life, but further that all people are in charge of their spirits and the way they approach their lives. So if your "spirits are kind of down and kind of low," well, pick 'em up. And you can do the same thing for your friends.

Eventually the class gets into "Project Pro-ject," which signifies that if you are going to do something, do it right. In other words, become known for excellence. And whatever you do, whether it is reading a poem out loud, or taking some people on a tour of your school, don't just go through the motions, pro-ject!

As time goes on, the students are given as assignment to find and sing some songs about peace, which results in songs being sung from the Hispanic and Arab cultures. Then, later, the class focuses upon responsibility by "Playing the Blame Game," and also by writing a poem about the way they want to live their lives.

The show ends on a patriotic note, with students being tasked to write and perform a song about what it is like to be an American, and then they conclude with the title song "Americans All."

Vanguard University is at 55 Fair Drive in Costa Mesa. The show will run for 12 performances on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday between Sept. 16 and Oct. 3.

Evening performances begin at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and matinees begin at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. There will also be a fundraiser evening performance to support the Heritage Museum of Orange County on Sept. 22. If you are interested in supporting the Heritage Museum, please contact me for tickets for that show.

Otherwise, you can reserve tickets for all other performances by calling the Lyceum Theater Box Office at (714) 668-6145.

I am so excited about how Vanguard is doing "Americans All" that I will be attending each performance. So when you come to the show, please seek me out and introduce yourself. I would like to meet you.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net.

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