“I never knew playing a saint would be so hard,” is a prophetic line at the beginning of the musical play The Road to Damascus playing at The Little Victory Theatre in Burbank. The line is uttered by the character George Spelvin, a troubled actor about to perform the transformative role of the apostle St. Paul. Broadway veteran Tony Monaco brings that role to life in the riveting one-man show, and he is comfortable making the hard journey from sinner to saint as he takes the audience on his personal “Road to Damascus.”
The first scene of the autobiographical show reveals that Spelvin/Monaco’s life was being devastated by drink and other demons. Then a mysterious experience directed him towards learning about Paul the Apostle. A projection screen effectively shifts scenes. From a backstage dressing room we go to the streets of Jerusalem where Saul of Tarsus (Paul) condemns the early Christians not too long after the first “Easter.” Saul justifies the persecution in the song “Holy Man,” but then he is dramatically converted on a trip to Damascus. Blinded, unable to see anything but visions of the Lord, Saul becomes the devout Paul. He finds redemption, regains his sight, and promises to offer hope in unsettling times spreading the word of Jesus the Messiah.
There are songs that take the audience through the emotional transformation, from “Lead Me, Lord,” performed with anguish, to the humorous “Little Cricket.” Monaco’s strong voice gives power to the scripture-infused lyrics in the songs “I Saw A Miracle” and “In Jesus Name.”
Monaco (remarkable at age 88) wrote the book, music and lyrics for the show he first directed for the late Buddy Ebsen 33 years ago. The Road to Damascus is produced by Dana McElwain; Joshua Finkel updated Monaco’s original direction and choreography; original orchestrations by Denny Bouchard. It plays through the end of April. Tickets are $20 General Admission, $18 seniors, $25 Preferred Seating, group rates available. Call 800-838-3006 or go to www.TheRoadtoDamascus.net. Shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m., at The Little Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank 91505; for information: 818-841-5422.