To top off the Christmas season, the Vanguard University Theater Arts Department has premiered its very own stage production, Open All Night, written and directed by instructor of Musical Theatre, Vanda Eggington.
“I had an idea of a homeless woman,” she said. “I had an experience with a homeless person. My husband’s wallet went missing. He [the homeless man] used his precious quarter to call my husband! That was my inspiration, that start with a homeless person. I thought, why not make a homeless character who happened to be an angel. The story would begin with all these characters praying. The angel manipulates all these prayers to be answered.”
Open All Night follows two sisters, Holly (played by Lilia Porter) and Ivy (played by Kate Frampton), who own the café, “Do or Dine” in a small midwestern town where everyone knows what everyone else is doing.
A near-homeless mother, Grace (played by Megan Fox) and daughter, Kris (played by Gwen Olson) get taken in by the two sisters and become a blessing to many of the local townspeople. Surrounding this is the homeless narrator and backdoor organizer of these blessings and answered prayers, Noelle, (played by Alexandra Miller).
“It’s such a happy show,” Miller said. “Especially with so much tension in this country, it’s nice to get away, get inspired, and just go see a show.”
The show is a semi-comedy about hope, compassion, and the restoration of the Christmas spirit. An ensemble cast of twelve play the quirky townspeople with each their own need for a push in the right direction. Playing in this ensemble cast is a group of actors and actresses who all have a song to sing in between the hopeful speeches of Noelle and the development between the relationships of the hospitable, though peculiar townspeople, from the tender-hearted but lonely sheriff, Nick (played by Austin Christensen), the nerdy one-liner old man divided between two women, Jack (played by Austin Nunn), all the way to the crazy and sensual drama queen, Gloria (played by Grace Osimo).
In the show, Noelle stays outside the parameter of the stage representing the cold night, speaking indirectly to the audience about the importance of hope and faith in a time of great trial. The set, consisting of the quaint and colorful “Do or Dine” café and the cold, dark, alleyway in the back, is active with movement and whimsy by the entire cast. Throughout the play, a performance is given, some solemn and thought-provoking pieces where characters sing simultaneously their hopes up to the starry sky, others full of lively dance numbers that did not leave any space empty on the relatively small stage.
Eggington said that the inspiration was drawn from a small town in Ohio she grew up in. Many of the locations are based on real places. “I wanted it to be seen as just a quaint town that everyone could relate to. That’s how I envisioned it. I didn’t want the location to be anyplace too specific.”
One of the audience members said that the characters and performances reminded her of the people from the small midwestern town she grew up in.
So, why should Vanguard students come to see Open All Night?
“It’s Christmas!” Dylan Knapp, who played Gabriel, the struggling street-guitarist with big ambitions.
Lilian Parker, who played the younger sister, Holly, said, “We have chapel at Vanguard which is supposed to inspire us. But students often see it as a requirement. We need to breath and slow-down. It’s a lesson in compassion. This show is all about going out of your way to help someone. I think this story is really important. This is why they should see it.”
For Olson, this was her first show and she was particularly passionate about the role as the young, hopeful daughter surrounded by so much sorrow and poverty. She said that the fact that it’s about three characters who go out of their way to help people is a message that Vanguard students should nurture in their walk at a school like Vanguard.
“Kris’s childlike faith inspired me,” she said. “It’s so easy to take casual the little things. Nothing seems to bother her. It’s nice and refreshing to be part of something that is so straightforward and simple. I remember what it was like to have this childlike faith. But it was nice to get back and remember through this character.”
Nunn said that a small place like Vanguard is a place where students should look for those people who are hurting and need to be loved upon.
“We get to do mainstream shows. But then we get to do shows that our professor writes. What Eggington puts into these shows is great! We talked for five minutes about who Jack was. This is what inspires me about Vanguard University, the time it takes and realize just how these characters are real.”
Open All Night plays at Vanguard’s Lyceum Theatre located behind the O. Cope Budge Library by the Lot G parking lot alongside Newport Blvd. until Sunday, December 11 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. More information and tickets are available at vanguardtickets.com.