Youmans: 'Americans All' celebrates country's core values

September 22, 2011|By Heather Youmans
  • A scene from the musical "Americans All," during a rehearsal at Vanguard University's Lyceum Theater in Costa Mesa on Wednesday.
A scene from the musical "Americans All,"… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

"Americans All," a musical revue with music and lyrics by retired Orange County Judge James P. Gray, made its world premiere at Costa Mesa's Vanguard University on Sept. 16.

The production, which will run this weekend and next through Oct. 2, revealed budding, young talent from the Christian campus' award-winning department of theater arts.

Under the direction of Vanda Eggington, 10 theater and musical theater majors were brought together to collaborate with arranger Susan Boettger and Gray, the primary composer and lyricist, in creating an original musical. Gray writes a regular column for the Daily Pilot.

The production combines music, dialogue and poetry to examine and celebrate core American values, according to a Vanguard news release.

Gray, a long-time patron and supporter of Vanguard's theater program who lives in Newport Beach, used his first-hand encounters as an Orange County Superior Court judge to conjure the initial inspiration for the production.


"Honestly, the germ for the idea came when I was on juvenile court, because it became clear to me that many of our young people didn't even have a threshold [of] understanding about ethics and good choices and values that a lot of us take for granted," Gray said. "I thought, 'you know, it's awfully hard for me to preach from the bench, but if we had students in a fun way accent these things, then maybe some of the kids will at least get some of the points.'"

While Gray brought his opinions to the table, the college students added a youthful perspective to the show. They contributed their high school experiences and impressions to the performance.

The group effort gave rise to a powerful end result: a bridge in the generational gap, an opening of the lines of communication between America's youth and adults in a seemingly boundless debate over the country's core values.

The production uses high school detention, a setting of immediate unrest and teen angst, as a discussion space. Once the lights dim, we are brought back to that all-familiar classroom, now re-created with the phrase "Eschew Mediocrity" scribbled on the chalkboard.

The story is a classic case. A passionate teacher, Mr. Gray (named after the retired judge), anxiously seeks to change the lives of his students, but after several desperate attempts to communicate, he fears he is not getting through to them.

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