One of the best-kept secrets for Christian families, it seems to me, is the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre dramas. They have taken a number of classic books and adapted them for audio. With an internationally acclaimed cast of actors, cinema-quality sound effects, and full orchestration, this is notable exception to the complaint that evangelicals produce inferior art.
I’ve included information below on each of the CD sets, along with an audio sample (where available) and the publisher’s description. Happy listening!
Between the lamppost and Cair Paravel on the eastern sea lies Narnia, a mystical land where animals hold the power of speech . . . woodland creatures conspire with men . . . dark forces, bent on conquest, gather at the world’s rim to wage war against the realm’s rightful king . . . and the great lion Aslan is the only hope. Into this enchanted world comes a group of unlikely travelers. These ordinary boys and girls, when faced with peril, learn extraordinary lessons in courage, self-sacrifice, friendship, and honor.
These classic stories have enchanted millions around the world. Radio Theatre brings them to life in this dramatized audio production. Recorded in London with an all-star cast of England’s brightest talent from the stage and screen, an original orchestral score, and cinema-quality digital sound design, this innovative recording provides hours of entertainment for the entire family. The Chronicles of Narnia includes The Magician’s Nephew; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Horse and His Boy; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; and The Last Battle.[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/narnia.mp3|titles=narnia]
Note: there are 19 CDs and this includes all seven books. I’d recommend getting this one, which is about 1/3 the price of this one. I think the only difference is that with the latter, each audiobook is in its own hard plastic case, whereas with the former they are just in paper CD pockets.
The Hiding Place is the story of two spinster daughters, Corrie and Betsie, unlikely heroes who became the center of a major underground operation to hide Jewish refugees from the occupying Germans. Even when betrayed and sent away to the dreaded Ravensbruck concentration camp, they manage to create another Hiding Place for those around them. This innovative audio drama closely follows the account of Corrie Ten Boom and features a moving musical score.[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/hiding.mp3|titles=hiding]
The story that has thrilled millions comes to life in a brand new way in Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s Les Miserables. This audio drama beautifully portrays the redeeming power of forgiveness through the story of Jean Valjean, an embittered convict whose life is changed by a single act of kindness. Recorded in London with some of England’s finest actors, it will mesmerize adults and families alike.
Combining the stellar script-adaptation skills of award-winning writer Paul McCusker with the best-selling novel by Jan Karon, Radio Theatre’s At Home in Mitford will leave listeners longing for more. Set in the charming village of Mitford, this book will delight listeners as it draws them into the life of Father Tim, an Episcopal rector who finds himself running on empty and longing for change. His bachelor existence is changed and enriched by a lovable cast of characters, including a stray dog, a lonely boy, and a comely neighbor.[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/mitford.mp3|titles=mitford]
With faith comes a price. What are you willing to pay? That’s the question explored in Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom. Chronicling the life of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this provocative Peabody award-winning dramatization shares the story of one man’s battle against the evils of Nazism, a decadent culture, and compromising church—something that’s not so foreign to society today. Challenging and compelling, it’s entertainment with a message![audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/bonhoeffer.mp3|titles=bonhoeffer]
In this Radio Theatre audio drama adaptation of George MacDonald’s classic story, a beautiful woman known as the North Wind blows through a small village in Victorian London, and everyday lives are mysteriously enveloped by a power and a glory. Along the way, she visits a poor stable boy named Diamond and takes him with her on her journeys. At the Back of the North Wind explores the place of death in our lives, social injustice, and our deep need for love and forgiveness.
C. S. Lewis, author of the classic Chronicles of Narnia series, said of MacDonald, “What he does best is fantasy—fantasy that hovers between the allegorical and the mythopoeic. And this, in my opinion, he does better than any man. MacDonald is the greatest genius of this kind whom I know.”[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/north.mp3|titles=north]
When Louis Gilbert turned in his detective badge to become an Anglican priest, he thought his days of solving difficult mysteries were over. Now, as the vicar of an ancient church in a small English village, Gilbert finds himself as the center of one strange mystery after another. And he brings to each one his unique combination of streetwise smarts and spiritual intuition.
All nine Father Gilbert Mysteries are offered in this special 10-CD collection, providing over 10 hours of audio entertainment.
(Note: Due to themes and scenes of mature nature, these audio drams are recommended for listeners age 15 and older.)[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/gilbert.mp3|titles=gilbert]
Edward Woodward . . . and Jenny Agutter are just two of the experienced cast that lends its talents to this enchanting audio-play adaptation of the famous story by George Eliot. Betrayed by his best friend and maliciously accused of being a thief, Silas Marner loses everything—his fiancee, his friends, his reputation, and—worst of all—his faith in God and his fellow man. When a beautiful, golden-haired child enters his life—a girl he loves as if she were his own daughter—his life is amazingly changed for the better.
This captivating new radio drama production based on the beloved book by Lucy M. Montgomery allows listeners to personally experience the world and characters presented in Anne of Green Gables in a whole new way! Anne of Green Gables is the story of a little girl’s feisty spirit and strong determination that win over the hearts of the people of Avonlea, the love and commitment of family, and a poor orphan growing up into a distinguished young woman.[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/anne.mp3|titles=anne]
The Radio Theatre production of Amazing Grace provides a prequel view to events featured in Amazing Grace, the movie. It offers listeners a more in-depth and personal story of each of the main characters—William Wilberforce (an evangelical Christian politician), John Newton (author of “Amazing Grace”), and Olaudah Equiano (slave turned quaker merchant)—three men instrumental in overthrowing the slave trade. The original Radio Theatre drama will bring out the essential spiritual elements in each story and show how the efforts of each man turned the tide of public opinion.[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/amazing.mp3|titles=amazing]
Note: Amazon doesn’t seem to be carrying this one right now. CBD says they can ship it by the end of June.
An unforgettable account of betrayal, revenge, redemption, Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s production of Ben-Hur tells the tale of a nobleman who fell from Roman favor and was sentenced to live as a slave—all at the hands of his childhood friend, Messala. Once nearly brothers, any hope of reconciliation is dashed after Messala is seriously injured during a vicious chariot race won by the vindictive Ben-Hur. But what makes this adaptation of Lew Wallace’s best-selling story unforgettable is the changed man Ben-Hur becomes after seeing Christ on the cross. Recorded in London with film-style sound, this action-packed production shares that compassion is the true path to redemption.”
Experience Charles Dickens’s beloved story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future in a 90-minute full-cast drama production. Since 1996, Focus on the Family Radio Theatre has produced innovative audio entertainment for families and individuals. These dramas feature cinema-quality sound design and original music scores.[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/carol.mp3|titles=carol]
2 CDs; 90 minutes
In his enduringly popular masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis re-imagines Hell as a gruesome bureaucracy. With spiritual insight and wry wit, Lewis suggests that demons, laboring in a vast enterprise, have horribly recognizable human attributes: competition, greed, and totalitarian punishment. Avoiding their own painful torture as well as a desire to dominate are what drive demons to torment their “patients.”
The style and unique dark humor of The Screwtape Letters are retained in this full-cast dramatization, as is the original setting of London during World War II. The story is carried by the senior demon Screwtape played magnificently by award-winning actor Andy Serkis (“Gollum” in Lord of the Rings) as he shares correspondence to his apprentice demon Wormwood. All 31 letters lead into dramatic scenes, set in either Hell or the real world with humans—aka “the patient,” as the demons say—along with his circle of friends and family. This Radio Theatre release also stars Geoffrey Palmer (Tomorrow Never Dies), Laura Michelle Kelly (Sweeney Todd), Eileen Page (The Secret Garden), and other world-class actors.
Includes 10 new songs inspired by the classic book, four behind-the-scenes video documentary featurettes, and a 5.1 surround sound mix. Four CDs, approx. 4 hours total.
Here’s a “behind the scenes” video:
Discover the incredible story of one of American history’s least known, yet most compelling, figures as it unfolds in The Legend of Squanto. This Focus on the Family radio theatre drama is more than just a tale about an honest man who triumphed over tragedy. It is also a tribute to honor, integrity, and the God-given ability to look beyond the color of one’s skin . . . and into the heart.
You can preview the entire audiobook below:
Listeners will be captivated by this moving tale of good versus evil through the life of winsome young sailor Billy Budd. Aboard a 1700s British warship, virtuous Billy is unfairly accused of treason by the villainous Master of Arms—a cold-blooded superior officer intent on Billy’s destruction. Adapted from Herman Melville’s famous novel and presented by Focus on the Family’s Peabody Award-winning Radio Theatre team, Billy Budd will remind listeners of another man, perfectly just, who suffered and died a criminal’s death.
One of the best-loved stories of all time, The Secret Garden is presented in high-quality and entertaining Radio Theatre drama. This classic tale, enriched with Biblical values, reflects themes such as helping others and believing in people. Mary, a young orphaned girl, meets her bedridden cousin, Colin. She discovers an enchanting secret place, separate from the outside world. It is in this place that Colin and Mary learn lessons about overcoming obstacles. By putting their faith in God and others, their lives are forever altered. This story will captivate audiences of all ages.[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/secret.mp3|titles=secret]
(coming in November 2012)
Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre’s edition of Charles Dickens’ classic story, Oliver Twist. Oliver is born in a workhouse about 70 miles from London, England in the early 1800s. He is brought up at a “child farm” in the country until the parish officials running the child farm decide it’s time for him to start working, and send him back to the workhouse. When Oliver commits the unpardonable offense of asking for more food, the parish officials offer five pounds to anyone who’s willing to take him on as an apprentice. Oliver is sent off with a coffin-maker whose wife mistreats him. Oliver finally runs away to London, where he meets the Artful Dodger and Fagin. Fagin trains kids to be pickpockets, and then sells off what they steal. Oliver goes through many trials and hardships, but finally gets his happy ending.
Recorded in London with an award-winning cast, Oliver Twist will steal your heart and take you back in time as the characters are brought to life in this audio drama.
5 CDs + 1 DVD (I assume the DVD is just a “making of” feature, though I’m not sure)
In first century Palestine, the physician Luke is on a mission to save the life of his friend Paul. His task: chronicling the life of a carpenter’s son from Nazareth named Jesus. Luke searches for firsthand witnesses to the miracles and controversies surrounding the man they call “the Christ.” Luke’s travels take him through violent roads, and he encounters his own miracles along the way. Be an eyewitness to Luke’s quest for the truth in this Radio Theatre production featuring England’s finest actors and cinema-quality sound design.[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/luke.mp3|titles=luke]
Combining the stellar script adaptation skills of award-winning writers Paul McCusker and Philip Glassborrow with the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott, Radio Theatre’s Little Women will captivate listeners with its poignant story and top-notch cast. Through trial, illness, poverty, disappointment, and sacrifice, four sisters place family above all else, reinforcing the qualities of honesty, contentment, and joy.[audio:http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2012/05/LW.mp3|titles=LW]
Note: We’ve enjoyed this one as a family; it is currently out of print, but I’ve included it in case you want to get a used copy.