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The sun still shines bright on 'The Stephen Foster Story'

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Celebrating its 56th season, musical features local residents

By Becca Owsley

“The Stephen Foster Story,” a regional tradition, kicked off this month in Bardstown for its 56th season.

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“The show was much longer when it first opened, at least 2.5 hours in length,” said Billy Bass, the media and development coordinator.

Through the years, scenes have been rearranged, music changed and some lines cut, he said.

“The show changes every summer with new cast members and personalities, so every year the show has it’s own distinct story,” he said.

As the “official outdoor musical of Kentucky,” he said the production has a lot to live up to.

“There is a sense of responsibility and pride when we perform the show, especially our state song ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’” he said.

He said a show with the production value and notoriety of “The Stephen Foster Story” is something special.

“I think some folks have become accustomed to it and may not realize the gem that they have in their own back yard, but the reviews we receive from the tourists and the audience members who are just passing through town help remind us of this state and local treasure,” he said.

Anyone visiting Kentucky enjoys coming to see the story behind the Kentucky state song, he said. But they also get to know about some classic bits of Americana with songs such as “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.”

He said people who frequent the show like to come back to see new and familiar faces in the cast, get their picture taken with the Kentucky Princesses and experience the music of Stephen Foster.

“As a cast member, you make such a connection with those around you that it is almost impossible to not want to return year after year,” Bass said. “As an audience member, to see the costumes and hear the music is just something you can’t experience just anywhere.”

There are many challenges to an outdoor production but the weather is a big one, he said.

In heat or rain, the cast has to rehearse 10 hours a day leading up to the performance and they often have to improvise at a moments notice. The performances move to Bardstown High School if weather interferes.

“That being said, we do our very best to complete every performance under the stars at My Old Kentucky Home State Park,” he said.

Brooke Horn will be a junior at Central Hardin High School this fall and is in her first production of “The Stephen Foster Story” She is one of the many Hardin County residents involved with the musical this year.

She is participating in the apprenticeship program and said if she’s given the chance she’ll be back.

The commitment for the show is two and a half months full of rehearsals and performances of nightly shows and Saturday matinees.

“It is challenging to be out in the summer heat and performing in an outdoor theater but it’s completely worth it to me,” she said. “I am having an amazing experience and am very honored to be a part of this cast.”

She not only enjoys dancing on stage but also learning the history behind Foster’s music.

A second show was added to the schedule in 2001. This year’s offering on Thursdays and Saturdays is “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

“The Stephen Foster Story” runs June 14-Aug. 16 and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” runs July 10-Aug. 9. For more information, tickets and show times go to www.stephenfoster.com.

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1741 or bowsley@thenews

enterprise.com.