Travis Russell was just a kid when his parents, founders of Christian Community Theater, hosted summer musicals under the stars atop Mount Helix’s amphitheater.
“It feels magical,” he said of the outdoor performances.
Long considered a crown jewel of East County, the amphitheater and cross, constructed by the Yawkey family in 1925, was deeded to the county as a public park four years later. At 1,370 feet, the park, which has hosted Easter sunrise services for decades, is known as much for its 360-degree views and its towering 35-foot cross.
“We acquired some footage, old black-and-white, of the cross being constructed,” he said. “It was amazing to see the community coming together and building a space they loved. It made me proud to be able to carry on the tradition of being part of a community.”
But the summer drama tradition was threatened in 2005 when several Mount Helix neighbors sued CCT over noise complaints. Although the theater ministry ultimately won the lawsuit, it spent $90,000 in legal fees.
“Then the same neighbors complained about parking and that increased our cost of buses to the point where it cost us more for buses than putting on the production,” said Travis’ father, Paul Russell who, with his wife Sheryl, launched CCT with a 1980 production of “The Sound of Music” at the amphitheater.
In 2011, after 26 years of presenting as many as three shows a summer, CCT ceased its Mount Helix shows, instead using the USS Midway and the Lincoln Performing Arts Center to present its popular San Diego Follies and the Traditions of Christmas.
On July 17, though, the tradition returns to Mount Helix when CCT presents the popular “Les Miserables.” The show runs through Aug. 2, with dark days on July 21, 22, 28 and 29. The Russells decided to resume the mountaintop show after officials with the Mount Helix Park Foundation invited them back.