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.