Pioneer Playhouse Celebrates 75th Anniversary Season! 

Pioneer Playhouse of Danville will be celebrating its 75th anniversary season in the Bluegrass in the summer of 2024. Founded in 1950 by Danville native, Eben C. Henson, Pioneer Playhouse is Kentucky’s oldest outdoor summer stock theatre, and one of the oldest continuously operated summer stock theatres in the United States.

Robby, Charlotte and Heather Henson

“When my dad was a young man, summer stock was this exciting new movement. It was a way to get plays and actors and directors out of cities and into the rest of the country where arts experiences were limited,” says Heather Henson, daughter to founder Eben and now one of three Hensons who together run the historic theatre. “My mother, Charlotte, my brother, Robby, and I – – we all feel a deep commitment to continue this tradition and ‘bring Broadway to the Bluegrass,’ as my dad always called it.”

“We grew up doing this,” says Robby Henson, who serves as artistic director. “Creating magic every summer, and sharing that magic with our audiences. We have incredibly loyal patrons and also loyal veteran actors who have returned year after year to make our theater experience a special kind of homecoming. And we have new blood too – – younger audiences who realize how unique professional theater under the stars can be.”

“It took us some time to settle on the perfect line-up for our 75th, and we’re thrilled to finally announce it,” adds Heather, who serves as managing director. “This summer, we’ll be keeping to the three-play format we’ve adapted since Covid-19 plus a special final weekend musical extravaganza show. We’re also adding a big star-studded Gala Night in June combined with an Alumni Weekend. It’s all really exciting!”

Kicking off the 2024 season of plays will be The 39 Steps (June 7-Jun 29), a hilarious murder mystery spoof adapted from the Alfred Hitchcock movie by Patrick Barlow.

“We did this show twelve years ago, and it’s one of our all-time favorites,” says Robby. “It is a fast-moving crime/mystery/romance with a bit of zany thrown in. Strangers on a train are thrown together by chance and intrigue and pursued by assassins throughout London and Scotland.”

Second in the summer line-up is That Book Woman (July 2-July 20), a heartwarming stage adaptation of what has become, over the years, a classic picture book published around the world and written by Heather Henson, celebrating the Pack Horse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky.

“When I wrote That Book Woman in 2008, there was actually only one other book -a non-fiction book – about this fascinating piece of Kentucky history,” says Heather. “Now there’s enormous interest in the Pack Horse Librarians and the important work they did in Appalachia, and we think it’s the perfect time to celebrate these remarkable women on stage through our Kentucky Voices program.”

That Book Woman will be adapted by Holly Hepp-Galvan, the playwright behind the hugely popular Pioneer Playhouse adaptations of local author Angela Correll’s novels, Gaurded and Granted.

Rounding out the regular play season will be Fireflies by Matthew Barber (July 23-August 10), a funny, feel-good comedy starring long-time Playhouse fan favorite, Patricia Hammond, about finding love late in life when you least expect it.

Pioneer Playhouse will end its 75th season in the Bluegrass with a “whole lotta shaking going on” with We Three Kings: An Elvis Experience (August 15, 16, 17).

“We love Elvis here at the Playhouse because we know our audiences love Elvis,” explains Robby. “This is a huge musical extravaganza with a live band and three different Elvis’s on the stage, bringing to life four different key eras of the King’s life. The show was produced at the Lexington Opera House last year to rave reviews, and we’re excited to have it on our stage.”

In addition to its regular play season, Pioneer Playhouse will be hosting an Alumni Weekend on June 14-15 and a special 75th Gala Night with Live Music, Food, Dancing, and Drink on June 15.

“Seventy-five seasons – that’s a lot to celebrate!” says Robby Henson. “We’d love to see company members from all decades and all parts of the country return to Danville and join us for a great big Gala, reminisce, and tell stories about their time at the Playhouse. We’ve even invited John Travolta and Lee Majors! We’ll see if they can make it. There will be live music by Michael Fly and the Sounds, food and drink, and dancing, and we want everyone – not just alumni, but all our patrons and friends – to come out and have fun with us.”

“This is such a huge milestone,” says Heather. “I’m not sure my dad ever thought we’d keep going without him. And honestly, we weren’t sure there for a while when we lost my sister Holly, and then when we lost key funding from the state. But Robby, Mom, and I committed, and we’ve gotten such great support from the community, so here we are…seventy-five years and counting!”

Pioneer Playhouse is located at 840 Stanford Road in Danville, KY. Tickets and patron passes for the 2024 season are on sale now. New prices are $22 for Show Only; and $40 for Dinner and Show. Kids and group prices are available upon request. Purchases of Patron’s Pass or Super Pass receive a 12% discount – perfect for holiday gifts or stocking stuffers! Also, a new Patron/Dinner pass is also available for pre-purchase this year. Please call the box office at 859-236-2747, Monday-Fridays, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.

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A Hilarious Helping of Tuna Closes Historic Season!

Pioneer Playhouse, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theatre, ends its regular 2019 play season with Red, White and Tuna, a hilarious comedy set in the fictional “third smallest town” in Texas, which is populated by an eccentric cast of characters, all connected through the airwaves of the hometown radio station, OKKK and its DJs, Arles Struvie’s and Thurston Wheelis’ constant comment on local happenings.

“The plays work as a series, but they’re also complete stand-alones,” says Heather Henson, managing director of Pioneer Playhouse, which has been celebrating 70 years in the Bluegrass this summer. “Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the other plays. It doesn’t matter at all. Each play has its own plot, its own big event that the residents of Tuna, Texas are all worked up about.”

Red, White and Tuna was written by a team of playwrights, Ed Howard, Joe Sears, and Jaston Williams, and is the third in a series of four “Tuna” plays which are both an affectionate look and satirical comment on Southern small-town life and attitudes. Pioneer Playhouse has previously presented two of the “Tuna” plays in years past: Greater Tuna and Tuna Does Vegas.

As the title suggests, Red, White and Tuna is set in the week leading up to the big Fourth of July celebration, which happens to coincide with the big Tuna High School reunion. Both events have all the Tuna townsfolk in an increasingly frenzied state of anticipation.

As with all the “Tuna” plays, two actors play the entire ensemble of kooky residents in a rapid-fire series of quick-change scenes and costumes.

“If you’ve been coming to the Playhouse for a while then you know actor, Daniel Hall Kuhn,” says Robby Henson, artistic director of Pioneer Playhouse. “He’s a fan favorite, and audiences always ask when he’s coming back. Well, he’s back with a vengeance in this one.”

“Daniel was one of the two actors the last time we did a ‘Tuna’ play,” says Heather. “He was in Tuna Does Vegas, and audiences loved him. They couldn’t stop laughing at all the different characters – both men and women – he played.”

“And this time we’re doing something a little different,” adds Robby. “We have Daniel back, but we are changing things up a bit, and having an actress play the other traditionally male role.”

Meg Mark, who debuted at Pioneer Playhouse over ten years ago in Pioneer Playhouse’s very first “Kentucky Voices” production, A Jarful of Fireflies by local writer Catherine Bush, returns to the historic stage to play opposite Kuhn in the demanding 20-odd character comedy.

“Meg was here when she was just starting out,” says Heather.  “And she returned about seven years ago, and audiences loved her in Dracula Bites and Picasso at the Lapin Agile. She’s been working in New York City, acting and doing stand-up comedy. She’s funny, with great energy and crazy comedic timing. We’re incredibly lucky to have her return.”

“It’ll be fun to see Daniel Hall Kuhn and Meg Mark working together again,” says Robby. “These are two actors at the very top of their game. You’re not going to want to miss one.”

Red, White and Tuna is directed by Drew Davidson. It opens on August 6 and runs through August 17, nightly, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:30 pm. A home-cooked BBQ dinner featuring pulled pork or pulled chicken, parmesan roasted potatoes, coleslaw, cornbread, and fruit cobbler is available at 7:30 before the show. Reservations are suggested for the play; required for dinner.

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.