For those readers who have not yet reserved tickets to the current Christian Youth Theatre production of TOM SAWYER at the Crighton Theatre, be advised that four of the twelve performances in the run have already sold out, and only four more performances remain this weekend. Trust me, this show is in the “not-to-be-missed” category, and having seen what CYT is capable of, I am already making plans to delay my spring trip to New York just long enough so I can catch one of the Seven Brides For Seven Brothers performances the group plans for Crighton Theatre next May.
Why am I so enthused? Let me tell you something. If this show were on Broadway right now it would not surprise me if it settled in for a good long run with its young star, John Bailey, becoming the toast of the town.
He is an absolute joy as Tom Sawyer, sings beautifully, and has naturalness on stage that money cannot buy. But he is not alone. The enormous cast of talented youngsters is delightfully choreographed and flawlessly directed by Amy Barnes (Assistant Director, Dana Crenshaw), with superb musical direction from Mandy Henson, and charming and authentic period costumes from designer, Marci Lane. Jared Barnes designed the many lovely sets with Tom’s house cleverly popping right into the audience. Lighting (John Romain) and Sound (Rick Hill) rounded out the production values that make this show a total gem.
But back to the wonderful music and lyrics of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman that highlighted the original Reader’s Digest movie musical adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on which this show is based. I am always struck by show tunes that are immediately catchy on first hearing. We have plenty of them here, and the superb singing of this cast does them all justice as this classic 19thcentury tale of a hooky-playing young rascal living on the Mississippi River comes to life on the stage.
The excitement of an arriving riverboat during the lively opening number, “Here She Comes,” is led by young Jonathan Seberino and the enormous 49-member cast. (I wish I could name them all!) The song is a knockout full of the kind of vibrant energy and utter joy that would prevail throughout the show.
When he is not getting into mischief Tom lives with his Aunt Polly (Mary Robbins). It doesn’t take Tom long to get into a brawl with another lad, and Polly is at her wits end as she leads a powerful performance of the show’s title tune, “Tom Sawyer,” joined by Mary
(Savannah Michelsen), Widow Douglas (Allie Darnell), Sid (Zoe Holbrook), Miss
Dobbins (Zoe Bullard), and Mrs. Thatcher (Cameron Valadez). The action quickly moves to the quaint town square where the apple of Tom’s eye, pretty Becky Thatcher (Christina Seberino) and her giggling girlfriends flirt with the boys. Then it is on to the adorable schoolhouse scene where stern schoolmarm, Miss Dobbins, rules with an iron fist until she faints when Tom throws an insect at her. The glee of the cheering students is infectious, and Tom’s young pal, Ben (adorable John David Dvorak) emerges as a cherubic scene-stealer.
Back in Aunt Polly’s yard, Bailey’s star power is clear as Tom and his gang offer a delicious romp through the cheerful song, “Gratification.” Talented Zane Nixon gets into the action as Huck Finn when he joins Tom, Ben, and Muff Potter (Adam Springer) for the
rambunctious and engaging, “A Man’s Gotta Be.” Next, a well-staged graveyard scene is misty and mysterious, and maybe a murder takes place, but maybe not. Soon the action is back in town where Mr. Bailey convinces us he is an absolute charmer as Tom sings the poignant, “If’n I Was God.” Wow! Then Act One ends with another of the many speedy and efficient set changes as we find Tom, Huck and Ben running away on a river raft during the merry tune, “The Promise Land” with its bright solo moments for each of the boys.
Intermission offered countless snack treats and little gift items for sale, and there were
auction items, too. But when the curtain went up for Act Two it was back to our three naughty runaways camping in the woods as they sing and dance merrily during the song, “Free Bootin’.” There are sweet counterpoints in the tender reprise of “If’n I Was God,” from Tom and Polly. Soon the whole town gathers at the church as the preacher (Preston Parkhurst) leads the hilarious memorial funeral service for the missing boys presumed dead. Miss Dobbins launches into the classic Gospel tune, “It is Well,” and the whole town joins in with choir-like perfection. Feisty young Huck has a pleasant duet with Widow Douglas for, “Take Me As I AM,” and the whole town rejoices at the return of the boys
during a 4thof July picnic with the lively delight and whirling choreography of the spirited song, “Hannibal, MO.”
Still to come was a spooky cave scene with the ominous Injun Joe (Joshua Bullard) and the best echo sound effects I have heard. There is a sweet “Soliloquy” from Polly and Mary before Tom leads Polly and Muff in a glowing rendition of “I Saw the Light.” The eye-popping and patriotic Fourth of July “Finale” that followed was led by the
talented Liberty Girls with a full cast that seemed to brilliantly explode on stage like fireworks personified.
And off stage — somewhere—there was another set of stars: the CYT staff, parents and crew who had made the impossibly wonderful really happen, right there on the Crighton stage. Bravo!
TOM SAWYER continues at Conroe’s Crighton Theatre with performances tonight at 7pm, Saturday at 2 pm & 7 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets may be purchased by calling 832-487-8770, or visiting the website at CYTHouston.org.