Pioneer Playhouse Opens With Hilarious Comedy!  

 Pioneer Playhouse of Danville will open for its 72nd season under the stars on June 11 with Clue: On Stage, a zany adaptation of everyone’s favorite board game and cult classic movie.

“We’re so happy to be back to doing a full season,” says artistic director, Robby Henson, son of Col. Eben C. Henson, founder of Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theatre.  “Last year we had an abbreviated season, but this year, we’re back in full swing.”

Rehearsals on the historic stage have been underway since Memorial Day weekend, and much of the cast are familiar faces to those who attend Pioneer Playhouse shows regularly. Patricia Hammond and Daniel Hall Kuhn are two actors who have been traveling to Danville each summer for almost twenty years.

“Both Pat and Daniel have big followings here. Our patrons love seeing them on stage,” says Heather Henson, sister to Robby, and managing director of the theatre her dad started in 1950. “We also have Erika Lee Sengstack coming back for her seventh year, and Jessa DeLuca is on her third year with us. Also, Giancarlo Herrera, a terrific young actor from a few seasons ago has returned as well.”

“To say that Clue is a complicated show, is a big understatement,” adds Robby Henson, who is also directing the first show of the 2021 summer season. “Having such an incredibly strong cast makes a huge difference.”

Clue: On Stage is a relatively new play. The board game, which was originally created in England in the 1940’s under the name Cluedo, has been hugely popular throughout the world and through the decades. Clue was made into a movie in 1985 with big names such as Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Lesley Ann Warren, and Eileen Brennan, and Christopher Lloyd. The movie continues to be a cult classic today.  There is also a musical version of the game.

“We read this fairly new stage adaptation, and we just knew it was perfect for the Playhouse,” says Robby Henson. “Lots of energy, lots of mistaken identity, lots of silly characters running around trying to figure out what’s going on and who’s the murderer.”

“Our audiences are going to love it,” adds Heather Henson.  “It’s perfect for the times. Everyone needs to get out and laugh about now.”

And Robby Henson would like to emphasize the word out.

“My dad built a huge outdoor amphitheater and dining patio, and it’s the reason we were able to open for a short season last summer; it’s the reason we’re confident about opening for a full season this year,” Robby says.

“We’ve been doing theatre outside and under the stars for 72 years, and we’re still going strong, even during a pandemic,” adds Heather. “I guess we’re doing something right!”

Clue: On Stage runs June 11 through July 3, nightly, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:30 pm. A delicious home-cooked BBQ dinner is available before the show at 7:00 pm in the outdoor courtyard. Dinner and show is $35 per person; Show only is $20. Pioneer Playhouse is located at 840 Stanford Road in Danville, KY. A full schedule of plays and information can be found at pioneerplayhouse.com or by calling the box office at 859-236-2747.

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New “Kentucky Voices” Play Celebrates Elvis!

Pioneer Playhouse of Danville continues celebrating 70 years in the Bluegrass with Breaking Up With Elvis, a brand new “Kentucky Voices” play by artistic director and award-winning filmmakerRobby Henson.

Breaking Up With Elvis, which opens Tuesday, July 9 and runs through Saturday, July 20, tells the story of a woman named Hazel who goes AWOL on the day of her own husband’s funeral in Lexington, Kentucky, and ends up at the gates of Graceland, where she encounters a parade of quirky characters, including a possible mystical meeting with “the King” himself.

“The play was inspired by ‘the ghost concert,’” says Robby Henson. “Or the ‘Elvis concert that never was’ at Rupp Arena in 1977. Elvis died a week before he was set to perform in Lexington, and over 21,000 fans were heartbroken.”

According to an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, published in August 2017, many of those fans never let go of their purchased Elvis tickets, which have become, in the decades since, a sacred souvenir.

“When I talk about the play, I’m always amazed at how many people say they still have their original tickets,” says Heather Henson, sister to Robby and managing director of Pioneer Playhouse. “I’ve read that there was a push by concert promoters to get all the tickets back so they could be refunded, but many people did not want to let go of their own little piece of Elvis.”

“Elvis was such a huge phenomenon in our culture,” says Robby Henson. “He came from such humble and hardscrabble beginnings and shot to mega-stardom. When you watch his early TV appearances and movies, you just instantly see what a talented, charismatic kid he was. He became so big, yet he never lost that ‘poor boy’ sensibility. He never lost his southern roots. I think southerners in particular, have a deep connection to Elvis. A lot of people felt that Elvis was one of ‘us,’ and that was part of his enormous appeal.”

“I loved Elvis,” says Patricia Hammond, who is a perennial favorite actor at Pioneer Playhouse, and who was an inspiration for the role of Hazel. “I was devastated when he died.”

“So many people I’ve spoken to remember exactly where they were the day Elvis died,” says Heather Henson. “It was a significant moment in their lives. And we’re asking folks to talk about that. There will be a time for audience members to get on stage during intermission and tell their Elvis story if they’d like. And original Elvis ticket holders will get fifty-percent off the price of the play.”

There will also be plenty of Elvis nostalgia, including nightly pre-show performances by two different Elvis Tribute Artists.

“We are very lucky to have two incredibly talented performers. Barry Lockard from Corbin, Kentucky, and Riley Jenkins from Tennessee,” says Heather Henson. “Barry will also be starring inBreaking Up With Elvis as ‘Big E,’ who — spoiler alert — may, or may not, be Elvis.’”

“We were really impressed with Barry when he came to meet with us to talk about doing a pre-show Elvis performance,” says Robby Henson. “We just felt he was perfect for the play, so we’re glad he was able to work us into his busy schedule.”

Barry Lockard is currently a Physical Therapist Assistant at a local nursing home. He began entertaining as Elvis five years ago after dressing up for Halloween and hasn’t looked back.

“I love performing and seeing smiles when the audience’s memories of ‘the King’ come rushing back,” says Lockard. “I also love performing for young folks, and introducing Elvis to a new generation to help keep his memory alive.”

One young man who already knows a lot about Elvis is Riley Jenkins, another Tribute Artist who will be performing for three nights at the historic theatre.

“We’re thrilled to have Riley Jenkins appear before the show as well,” says Heather Henson. “Riley is a 16-year-old who has traveled across the country to showcase the early days of Elvis.”

Breaking Up With Elvis, which is one of Pioneer Playhouse’s ongoing “Kentucky Voices” series celebrating Kentucky writers and history and culture, will begin at 8:30 pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays. A barbeque dinner featuring a special Elvis dessert is available at 7:30 each night.

Reservations are recommended for the show, required for dinner. A bar serving wine, beer, and mixed drinks is open to those 21 years and older.