Nancy Soper of Martinsville left a recent performance of the Patriot Players’ “Beauty and the Beast” in awe of the talents of Isaiah Young, who portrays the Beast.
“He has the ‘it factor,’” she said – just some special sort of charisma that brightens the stage.
Young, who has performed in 30 shows in Martinsville – 19 with the Patriot Players – is headed this fall to James Madison University, where he plans to take his theater life to the next level. Eventually, he said, he will live as a professional actor, performing either on Broadway or in traveling shows.
Young, 19, was born into music and acting. He sings with the popular gospel group Family Five, founded by his grandfather, the late Louis France, and uncles.
“Music is huge in my family,” he said. “My mother was my first introduction into what a musical was.”
His mother, LouAndrea Craighead, started off in college as a vocal performance major but eventually finished in teaching, he said. She is a teacher at Campbell Court Elementary School, and she raised him and his siblings on musicals “The Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady” and the like, he said.
“Isaiah’s always been very animated and performance-ready,” Craighead said. “He started really young with doing solos in church [Rock Hill Missionary Baptist].”
“I remember him singing in the church choir,” said his sister, Lydia Tyree. “We would develop harmonies and dance moves for the children’s choir at church. Quite frankly, we would relish in driving our mother nuts.”
Young’s older brother, Jamar Tyree, studied vocal performance at Greensboro College after his high school graduation in 2006. Seeing his brother perform in musicals “was the next level of me seeing what theater was,” Young said.
Young’s first show was the Missoula Children’s Theatre’s version of “The Little Mermaid.” He was a seahorse. He was 5 years old.
However, he said, he didn’t understand about musical theater: He had thought that the videos of musicals his mother showed were on film only.
It was the television show “Glee,” which ran from 2009 to 2015 – he didn’t miss an episode – that opened his eyes to “the concept of theater versus TV and film,” he said. “The whole first few seasons of ‘Glee’ featured all of this music” that was standard to theater. He said he would look up songs he heard on “Glee,” which were his introductions to many stage classics.
“I started to connect all the dots: my mom, Missoula Children’s Theatre shows, Jamar’s shows, then ‘Glee’ happened … people acting through song, music as a device to get emotions through. It was so interesting. I was so captivated,” he said.
In high school – he’s a 2018 graduate of Bassett High School and a 2019 graduate of Patrick Henry Community College – Young said he was inspired further by Corbin Campbell’s drama and forensics classes and competition theater.
He first encountered Campbell when he was in seventh grade at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, where Campbell then was an administrator. Around that time Young acted in TheatreWorks’ “Hairspray” and the Patriot Players’ “Shrek: The Musical,” never knowing that Campbell was a “founder of TheatreWorks. I only knew him as ‘Mr. C.,’” he said.
“Then I found out who he was – the fun side of Mr. C. He was really instrumental” in Young’s delving further into the world of theater. Campbell’s class on the phenomenon of theater opened his eyes to more, Young said.
“I was amazed to discover how knowledgeable he had become” about theater, Craighead said. “He had just researched it and had such a passion. He was always looking up and learning different things … he has a hunger for it.”
The academic side of theater came from Campbell, but his experience with musicals mostly came from the Patriot Players, he said.
He was in the group’s second show, “Fame,” in 2014. He started recognizing people he had known in earlier contexts. Bridgette Burnette, an actress, and Devin Pendleton, the artistic director, were in school with his brother.
Brandon Martin, now a cruise-ship entertainer, inspired him as “the first professional actor” he knew, Young said. Martin and Deborah Burgess explained a lot to him during a summer camp that went along with “Fame.” Martin showed him how to make a song come alive through movement.
He has performed in several shows with his mother, his sister or, such as with the Patriot Players’ “The Wiz,” both.
Being on stage with her kids “is hard to describe,” Craighead said. “It’s like a blessing, an honor. ... So many times when he and Lydia and I have been in shows together, I just get emotionally moved. It’s hard to stay in character on stage. You have to be a parent, and that feeling when you see them achieve things like that – it’s amazing.”
In autumn, Young played the role of the shyster Rooster in the Patriot Players’ “Annie: The Musical.” He said he had figured that would be his last local show before college. Now, because he heads off in August to JMU in Harrisonburg, it looks like “Beauty and the Beast,” which wraps Sunday, will be his last.
From now on, he said, he will be looking to perform in productions around Harrisonburg during the school year and in professional theaters during summer breaks.
Being on stage is “like magic,” he said. “Storytelling is one of the most fascinating things in the world,” and Isaiah Young said he plans to continue making the stage his home to do it.