Sunday, March 15, 2009


Last night, I checked out a venue I’d never been to before to watch the work of a company I’d never seen before. The gorgeous Cramer Theater at Steward School hosted the latest production from Christian Youth Theatre company. CYT has been around for a while and for all those years, their acronym has made me think of the song “PYT” by Michael Jackson every time I’ve heard it. That might not change going forward but something else certainly will: I won’t ever consider their work “just community theater.” Like the venue they used for this production, “Narnia” was sumptuous and impressive. It was a technical marvel, with gorgeous sets and top-notch lighting. And the costumes! The shaggy outfits of some of the furry characters, like the Beavers and particularly the regal lion Aslan, were stunning.

There was no shortage of talent either, in every sense of the word. First of all, there were 95 people in the cast. Yes, 95. That’s not a cast; it’s a small army. Also, pro stage vets -- like several of the Mercer children (Kaylin as the Unicorn, Davis as Peter Pevensie, and Makenzie as Mrs. Beaver) -- peppered the cast. While several of the youngsters showed promise, I enjoyed all of the Penvensie children especially, with Ashlyn Landrum in fine voice as Susan and Davis Harrison as Edmund showing some refined acting chops. The word on the street is that Sarah Day, who was adorable as Lucy, is going to be “Annie” in Theatre IV’s upcoming production. If so, they’ve got an accomplished talent leading that cast. With a little more material, the engaging Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (played by the aforementioned Ms. Mercer and Carson Burkett) could have the basis for their own standup comedy act. All in all, there were a surprising few weak links given the enormity of the cast and the youth of the actors.

The musical itself was a bit of a mixed bag. The adaptation of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” into a fairly streamlined show was impressive but the songs ranged from moving and dramatic to forgettable and downright silly. Still, particularly rendered with such technical opulence, it made for an entertaining and impressive evening overall.

Beyond the purely theatrical, I’m kind of intrigued at the assertion of “Narnia” so conclusively as a Christian work. The analysis of this aspect of C.S. Lewis’s series of books (all seven of which I read aloud to my wonderful daughter Bryce) has ramped up in recent years in the wake of the Narnia movies. If anyone is interested, this article from Salon provides a good introduction to this analysis (don’t give up before getting to the second page that includes this provocative statement: 'Whatever Lewis and his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien may have claimed about their work, it is not compatible with true Christian theology.') The author of this article (Laura Miller) went on to write a book I’ve read about and I have heard her interviewed a couple of times. Someday in my spare time I’d like to read her “The Magician’s Book” which is about the Narnia series but also about being both a reader and a writer. Maybe I'll get to it on my next cruise…in another 15 years…


pnlkotula said...

I don't often, but I'm going to weigh in on this one. I've seen several of their productions since the Mercers brought CYT to my attention, and I am always amazed at how with anywhere from 82 to 95 students onstage, all with varying degrees of experience and age groups, I have yet to see one who was not focused on the scene. No seat or nose picking, no fidgeting, no glazed over faces - ever. That is no small feat.

Thanks for giving well deserved props!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing this group to everyone's attention.
I have see all but about 2 of their shows in the past 4-5 years, and I encourage you to keep going back. I did not even feel this was one of their stronger shows.
(When they did Annie a couple years back, I found it highly superior to the professional touring verstion that had been through town - both in terms of talents, as well as costumes, props, and sets.)
Because these kids have to pay a production fee to be in the shows, and their are many hours of required sweat equity on the part of parents, the productions often come across looking better than some of the professional theatre in town, who I'm sure would be jealous of the resources of labor and money they have avaible. These children are talented and driven, and having a great time. It is highly competitive, just to get to be one of those 90 kids who get the pleasure of being on the stage, let alone to get a lead.
Sure, there are occasional shows that are less than stellar, and often spring from less than stellar material (like Narnia). But hand them a quality show - like Oliver, Fiddler, Les Mis, Annie......and it is a marvel to see (and a bargain in the process).

Anonymous said...

CYT is very professionally done. The parent volunteers are a huge part of putting on exceptional shows. With the excellant directors and hard-working actors, CYT produces memorable shows.

Anonymous said...

I am in CYT and i have to say that it feels so good when you are singing up there on stage with all of your good friends, although everyone there at CYT is more like family to me, everyone is so friendly and supportive. I love it there and I am looking forward to being in the wizard of oz, which is exactly a month away. I hope you all come see it!!!