Sherlock Comes to America in Playhouse’s Second Offering!

It may be summer in the Bluegrass, but for two weeks on stage at Pioneer Playhouse of Danville, it’s the height of St. Paul’s famed Winter Carnival where one of the city’s wealthiest young men has lost his head–literally.

Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders is the second offering in the historic theatre’s 70th season under the stars. Running from June 25 through July 6, this scintillating mystery featuring everybody’s favorite deerslayer hat-wearing sleuth was written by Jeffrey Hatcher, based on the novel by Larry Millett.

“Everybody loves Sherlock,” says Heather Henson, whose father, Eben C. Henson, founded Pioneer Playhouse in 1950, and who now acts as managing director, running the theatre with her brother, artistic director, Robby Henson, and producer mother, Charlotte.

“We skipped doing a Sherlock Holmes mystery last year,” Henson says, “but when we came across this play, we knew we wanted to bring Holmes and Watson back to our stage.”

Described in reviews as a smart, funny, fast-paced mystery, Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders places its iconic sleuth and his trusted sidekick, Dr. Watson in America for a change. The year is 1896, and the setting is Minnesota in winter. A young man has gone missing just before his wedding, so it’s up to Holmes and Watson, with the help of local barkeep and amateur sleuth, Shadwell Rafferty to track a cold-blooded killer from the icy streets of St. Paul to the frozen Mississippi River.

“The setting makes this particular Sherlock special,” says Robby Henson. “Sherlock is taken out of his comfort zone and brought to 1890’s middle-America, which is teeming with larger than life characters – Norwegians, Scandinavians, Minnesotans. Our actors are having a lot of fun with the accents.”

Playing the role of Sherlock Holmes is Drew Sutherland, an actor based in Lexington, Kentucky, who appeared as Little Willie in Pioneer Playhouse’s opening show, Kong’s Night Out. Eric Seale, also from Lexington, who played beleaguered producer Myron Siegel in “Kong,” takes a turn as Dr. Watson.

“One thing we definitely encourage patrons to do is come out and see all five shows during our ten-week season,” says Heather Henson. “Getting to know our company of actors, getting to see them play such diverse characters over the course of the summer is part of the whole Playhouse experience. These are talented actors, and they really get to strut their stuff and show their range over the course of the summer.”

One such versatile, young actor is Michael Ross, a Danville native, who plays the role of the latest Holmes and Watson sidekick, Shadwell Rafferty.

“Michael grew up here, and has done a lot of theatre in and around Danville,” says Heather Henson, “so we’re really happy to have him as part of our company this year. And we’re also excited to have another local, Bailey Angel, getting a chance to go on stage as well.”

Bailey Angel is from the Harrodsburg, Kentucky area and studies theatre at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. Heather Henson notes that Angel volunteered at the Playhouse last year, and then came back and officially auditioned for the company during the off-season. She was then hired as a 2019 acting apprentice.

“It’s a tier system here at the Playhouse,” explains Robby Henson. “An acting apprentice isn’t guaranteed a role. When they sign on, they know they’ll be doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work. But auditions are open to the whole company, and we try to give everyone a chance to get on stage at least once or twice during the summer.”

“Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders is a perfect show for that,” says Heather Henson. “Sherlock, Watson, and Rafferty are set characters, but the rest of the cast work as an ensemble, playing many different roles, literally wearing many different hats.”

“I think longtime Playhouse patrons will be surprised by the character – or characters — our beloved Patricia Hammond plays,” Heather continues. “Definitely something a little different.”

“This play is a lot like a show we did a few years back, The 39 Steps, which audiences really loved,” says Robby Henson. “There are lots of different characters, lots of quick set changes. It’s a challenge for us – but that’s what we like here at the Playhouse. A challenge.”

Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders, which is directed by Anthony R. Haigh, who has been working in theatre for over fifty years and who helmed Kong’s Night Out, opens June 25 and runs through July 6. Shows run nightly at 8:30 pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays. A home-cooked BBQ dinner is available before the show each night at 7:30 pm. Reservations are suggested for the play; required for dinner. Price for dinner and show is $35; show only is $20.

Big Ape, Big Laughs in Pioneer Opener

Pioneer Playhouse of Danville begins its celebratory 70th season in the Bluegrass on June 7 with Kong’s Night Out, a comedy by Jack Neary that pays hilarious homage to the original King Kong.

First produced in Boston, MA at the Lyric Theatre and written as a fictional “back story” to the 1930s classic movie, Kong’s Night Out centers around a Broadway producer named Myron, played by Lexington’s Eric Seale, who learns that his rival is planning something “big” in order to steal his opening night thunder. As the story progresses, all the characters, including Myron’s mother, played by Patricia Hammond, try to uncover the “big” secret, which of course involves an enormous primate with a yen for blondes.

“I love this show,” says Patricia Hammond, who has been returning to the historic theatre for nearly two decades. “I love my wise-cracking character, and prickly relationship with her son, Myron.”

“This is a perfect role for Pat,” says Heather Henson, managing director of Pioneer Playhouse, which is Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theatre. “When we read the play, we knew fans of Pat – and there are quite a few out there – would really get a kick out of seeing her portray this sassy Broadway broad.”

“It’s a play with a lot of energy,” says Robby Henson, artistic director of Pioneer Playhouse. “It’s the kind of screwball comedy with doors slamming and mistaken identity that really works for us. It’s a crowd-pleaser.”

Kong’s Night Out is directed by Anthony Haigh, who has been acting and directing professionally for over fifty years, and who recently retired from directing the theatre program at Centre College.

“When we work with Tony, we always know it’s going to be a top-notch show,” says Heather Henson.

“It’s a fine ensemble cast this year,” says Haigh. “A nice balance of new actors and seasoned veterans, working together on a witty, scatological text.”

Working together is a big part of what Pioneer Playhouse is about.

“It’s definitely a team effort putting on a show in ten days,” says Robby Henson. “From director to actors to props to building the set, every single person is important in making the magic happen.”

“Making things come to life in a limited time period, with limited recourses brings out an intensity,” says Haigh. “The intensity of the work at the Playhouse brings out the best in the actors – and in the whole company.”

Kong’s Night Out opens on June 7, and will run nightly at 8:30 pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays, through June 22. A home-cooked BBQ dinner is available before the show each night at 7:30. Reservations are suggested for the play; required for dinner. Price for dinner and show is $35; show only is $20.

Pioneer Playhouse, which is celebrating 70 seasons under the stars, is located at 840 Stanford Road in Danville. For more information, call the box office at 859-236-2747 or 1-866-KYPLAYS.