Eastlight Theatre’s Youthlight, productions cast with young performers, takes on a classic stage show-Miss Saigon-but with a twist: It’s a concert.

"Miss Saigon has an incredibly beautiful musical score, and it’s perfect for presentation in concert form," said Eastlight Executive Director Kathy Chitwood. "The drama and passion of the piece lives in the music, and our young artists will bring it to life. This is our first step into the concert genre, which is becoming very popular for theatres. They’ll never replace mainstage productions, but they do provide the opportunity to present great pieces affordably and with abbreviated rehearsal processes."

Parent organization Eastlight Theatre was created in 1992 through an intergovernmental agreement between the City of East Peoria, the Fon du Lac Park District, and East Peoria High School, she said. "After a successful production in December 1991 of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, these governmental bodies wanted to see a year-round theatre in East Peoria."

Chitwood said each governmental body contributes resources to Eastlight Theatre. "The city provides a $10,000 annual subsidy. For the first 10 years, this money was used to pay for the air conditioning system that was installed in the theatre so that summer occupancy was possible. The park district provides office, rehearsal, and storage space plus a $5,000 annual subsidy. The high school provides the use of the 1,200-seat Byron Moore Auditorium."

With these resources, Eastlight is able to put on four mainstage productions every year. One of these productions is always its annual production of Joseph, which is produced in conjunction with the East Peoria Festival of Lights.

In addition to these mainstage productions, Chitwood said a number of other projects take place throughout the year. "Besides Youthlight, there’s also a small musical presented at the Country Side Banquet Center during the Festival of Lights for daytime buses. The Eastlight Players is a group that presents children’s shows. Eastlight’s newest program, the Penguin Project, is a musical theatre experience for young artists with disabilities. Its first production is this September."

Youthlight got started with its unique production of Les Miserables. "When we discovered that Les Miserables was going to be released for performance by young artists-under age 18-we knew we wanted to be the first in the area to do it. We felt that our facility was best suited to bring this mega-musical to central Illinois. We believed in our young talent, but we truly had no idea how really gifted they were. Les Miserables 2002 and 2003 showcased their tremendous abilities and blew everyone away. To keep the experience fresh for participants and audience members alike, we decided we would present it every other year; therefore, we needed a project for this year."

That project turned out to be "Miss Saigon In Concert." For this production, Chitwood said many of the young artists from Les Miserables-School Edition are returning. "But we also have many new faces, and I’m always amazed at the talent of our area’s young artists. The role of Kim is being presented by Julia Myers. Julia just graduated from Metamora High School and auditioned for New York’s American and Musical Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in July. Julia played the role of Eponine in both productions of Les Mis. Brian Beach plays Chris. He’s a 2004 graduate of Limestone High School and heads for the Big Apple and AMDA in October. In Les Mis 2003, Brian presented the role of Marius.

"The Engineer will be played by Micah Spayer. Micah will be a senior at Richwoods High School this fall. In Les Mis 2002, he played the role of Javert. Kylie Moore, new to Youthlight, is Ellen. She’s a 2004 graduate of Limestone High School and will be attending Bradley University. Quinn Orear will be John. Quinn will be a senior at Richwoods High School and played Enjolras in Les Mis 2003," she said.

"Miss Saigon In Concert" is an especially poignant choice in light of the conflict in which the U.S. is currently engaged. Of the musical’s meaning, Chitwood said, "War is hell, and the victims aren’t always soldiers. It was as true during the Vietnam War as it is today. Unfortunately more than ever, I think our young people have a ’touchstone’ with this story as they watch events evolve in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. It may help them with their acting, but I shudder to think what true effect it has on their spirits."

In lieu of the traditional staging of Miss Saigon, this production will be presented concert-style but will include some costuming and staging to further the dramatic effect, she said. "We must also accommodate the more than 50 members of the on-stage chorus-and hope they can sit quietly and not be a distraction during the solos and duets."

In keeping with the every-other-year presentation schedule of Les Miserables-School Edition, it will be performed next year. And plans are already in the works for the 2006 Youthlight production of Beauty and the Beast.

She said the best part of Youthlight is getting to enjoy the talents of these young artists and watching them make connections with each other. "The Youthlight program has seen participation by students in more than 25 public schools and many home-schooled kids. These relationships are long-lasting and very supportive. Through them, these ’theatre kids’ have found they aren’t alone in this world."

The most challenging aspect, Chitwood said, is trying to work around all of the kids’ schedules. "These talented kids are in great demand at their individual schools. So sometimes, it’s hard to get them all together at the same time."

"Miss Saigon In Concert" takes place at 7:30 p.m., August 26, 27, and 28, and at 2 p.m., August 29. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 for youth through high school. For more information, call 699-7469. AA!