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Outdoor Theaters in Kentucky

Quick Overview

In small towns across Kentucky, theatre-goers gather beneath the stars on a summer’s evening for productions that are as colorful, charismatic and captivating as only live outdoor theatre can make them.

Outdoor Theaters in Kentucky

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Hoopskirts swirling across the stage. Black powder rifles booming and smoking. Spelunking into the past.

 

In small towns across Kentucky, theatre-goers gather beneath the stars on a summer’s evening for productions that are as colorful, charismatic and captivating as only live outdoor theatre can make them.

 

“It is one of those experiences that gives you chills,” says Johnny Warren, managing artistic director of “The Stephen Foster Story,” opening its 59th season in Bardstown, KY. “Full cast on stage filling the night sky with their voices – in this case belting out ‘My Old Kentucky Home.’ If you can bring yourself to look away from the breathtaking costumes, you’ll see the stars twinkling in the night sky. It’s unforgettable.”

 

Get your ticket and take your seat. The sun is about to go down, the curtain up, and the magic begin.

 

Off-off Broadway in central Kentucky

 

With a little planning, it is possible to design a long theater weekend to catch a different show in

Bardstown, Harrodsburg and Danville. Located in the rolling hills of central Kentucky, these are some of the state’s most historic towns, not to mention among its smallest and prettiest.

 

Bardstown is home to Kentucky’s Official Outdoor Drama, “The Stephen Foster Story.” Presented June 10 through Aug.12, it tells the story of the “Father of American music,” who wrote 286 works in less than 20 years, including “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races” – and, most famous of all, “My Old Kentucky Home.” All are belted out in a showy spectacle that also features over 200 colorful costumes and a full-scale replica paddlewheel that rolls onto the stage.

 

Shows take place in the amphitheatre located on the lush grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. (“Disney’s Beauty and The Beast” is also on this summer’s schedule, Thursdays and Saturdays, July 6 through Aug. 5.) Steps from the amphitheatre is stately Federal Hill, an exquisite 19th-century mansion filled with priceless artifacts that belonged to the home’s original owners, the Rowans, relatives of Stephen Foster.

 

Pre-theatre dinner at Kurtz’s gives a flavorful taste of Kentucky with scratch-made signature specialties fried chicken, skillet-fried cornbread and biscuit pudding topped with bourbon sauce. Onsite concessions offer hot dogs, nachos and other snacks plus a variety of beverages, including wine slushies and, Bardstown being the Bourbon Capital of the World, Heaven Hill Bourbon.

 

Drive one hour to downtown Harrodsburg to see outdoor theatre in a replica fort setting, commemorating the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains, in Old Fort Harrod State Park. The Ragged Edge Theatre Company produces two shows each summer. The musical, “Brigadoon,” is presented June 8 to 10 and 15 to 17, and original signature production, “James Harrod: The Battle For Kentucky,” staged annually and replete with aforementioned booming rifles, takes place Thursdays through Sundays, July 6 to 29.

 

Two-year-old ham, beaten biscuits, yellow-leg fried chicken and corn pudding – all rhapsodized over by pioneering critic Duncan Hines back in 1949 – are still on the menu at Beaumont Inn, a recent recipient of a James Beard America’s Classic award. Kentucky’s oldest Southern country inn (marking its 100th anniversary in 2019) plates a delectable dinner that pairs beautifully with both productions.

 

In nearby Danville, the enchantingly rustic Pioneer Playhouse is Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theatre and a time capsule of 1950s summer stock theatre where John Travolta, Lee Majors and Bo Hopkins have played the boards.

 

The summer season kicks off June 9 with fan fave “Death by Darkness,” whose setting is Mammoth Cave in 1842. The lineup continues with “Drinking Habits,” “Guarded” and “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” and concludes with “Elvis Has Left the Building.”

 

Dinner takes place at 7:30 and is announced by the ringing of the Old Danville Firehouse Bell. The menu is home-grown Kentucky with pork or chicken barbecue, parmesan-roasted potatoes, coleslaw, farm fresh sides and homemade pie. Miss Charlotte, the wife of playhouse founder Col. Eben Henson, sings folksongs on the patio during dinner; afterward, guests can wander through vintage Main Street, an onsite assemblage of 19th century storefronts featured in an episode of the History Channel’s “American Pickers” series.

 

 

Kathy Witt

 

June 1, 2017

 

 

PHOTOS

 

The driving force behind the longevity of “The Stephen Foster Story” is the music of Stephen Foster, whose melodies are woven into the fabric of American music and acclaimed internationally.

Photo: Stephen Foster Drama Association

 

“James Harrod: The Battle For Kentucky” is an original script based on a historical incident that took place in the late 1700s.

Photo: Harrodsburg/Mercer County Tourist Commission

 

Edgar Allen Poe gets light-hearted in Pioneer Playhouse’s production of “Tell-Tale Farce.”

Photo: Pioneer Playhouse

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