Written by Daniella Litvak
Rock ‘n’ roll belongs to everyone, but the origin of The Beat Goes On belongs to Orange County. Back in 2014 Vanda Eggington created The Beat Goes On as a showcase for Vanguard University’s students. It was a hit. Now it’s back, but it’s not just a repeat of a previous success. This time The Beat Goes On is an American Coast Theater (the resident professional theater of Vanguard University) production. In addition to the professional upgrade, Eggington has also made some changes that include more material.
So what’s it all about? The short answer is that it’s a recounting of the history of rock ‘n’ roll in the style of a musical revue. Featuring music from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today, each time period has song and dance segments dedicated to the rock ‘n’ roll music of its era. In between and throughout these sections the Narrators not only provide background information for the music but they also bring the audience up to speed on what else is happening in the world at that particular time.
As someone who’s always liked history class, I don’t mind when the Narrators start lecturing. Nevertheless I appreciate the show for coming up with more creative framing devices —such as the infomercial shown during the 70’s —and for allowing the Narrators to be more interactive with the rest of the cast as we progress. I also like how the show becomes progressively more tongue-in-cheek with the performers gleefully embracing the campy and zany aspects of the music they perform.
It’s not all bubblegum pop though. Even if you’re already familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, the images and songs from the time still strike a chord. Despite being very brief, one of the most poignant moments of the night is when Justin Budds sings a bit of “Mrs. Robinson” while narrating about Watergate.
It’s important to remember that the songs are performed in a medley style. There may be times when you wish the whole song (or even just one more chorus) would be performed, but the song choices contained in each medley are well chosen. They actually use this format to their advantage— particularly in allowing the men and women to sing counterpoint to one another.
Overall the singing is good. Some consistency issues still occur though, particularly at the beginning when the performances feel a bit too restrained. Once the 60’s roll around the performers really get into the grove. They have some great energy and stage presence. It is clear the entire cast put their heart into the show, which pays off in the results because there are a lot of great moments.
The Beat Goes On invites you to reflect and revel in our past and present. Things have changed. Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. No matter how uneasy we feel about the social climate or the growing sense of isolation from one another, we’ll always have rock ‘n’ roll to lift our spirits.