Lincoln comes to life in musical drama’s 3rd season

Austin Rawlins of Jasper, 13, left, Dean Dorrell of Washington, and Tyler Dugas of Santa Claus, 16, rehearsed for “A. Lincoln: A Pioneer Tale” at the Lincoln Amphitheatre inside Lincoln State Park in Lincoln City onTuesday. The cast includes several actors from southwestern Indiana. For more photos, click here.

Herald Staff Writer

LINCOLN CITY — Long before he was the 16th president of the United States and a champion for the abolition of slavery, Abraham Lincoln was a backwoods boy in Indiana.

Thursday evening, the Lincoln Amphitheater premiered its third season of “A. Lincoln: A Pioneer Tale,” the story of how Lincoln’s Indiana childhood helped to make him the man in the White House.

Written and directed by Ken Jones with music by Jamey Strawn, lyrics by Christine Jones and choreography by Roderick Justice, “A. Lincoln: A Pioneer Tale” pulls audiences through Lincoln’s formative years as he recounts his first love, the loss of family, slavery and some of the greatest events in American history — the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation. The show runs two hours with an intermission in the 1,500-seat covered Lincoln Amphitheatre inside Lincoln State Park.

Theater communications director Brandi Weyer said an average of 300 guests attend each show. Thursday evening the crowds shuffled in at around 150.

“It usually takes three to five years for outdoor theatres to build up momentum,” Weyer said.

Though the structure is impressive, jutting out among the surrounding woods, it isn’t the most powerful feature of the venue.

For many cast members, the intimate location to Lincoln’s childhood eclipses the traditional acting experience.

“It’s surreal.” said Spenser Smith, who plays teenage Lincoln. “We’re retelling a story that happened here once already.”

Molly Watson of Paris, Ky., left, and Brian Spencer of Cincinnati danced during Tuesday’s dress rehearsal for “A. Lincoln: A Pioneer Tale” at the Lincoln Amphitheatre inside Lincoln State Park in Lincoln City. The production, in its third season, opened Thursday night and will run through July 26. 

The actor from Mount Washington, Ky., is entering his third year as young Lincoln and said powerful scenes give him “good energy.”

It is as if Lincoln is giving his nod of approval.

“It’s crazy, when I point to his sister’s and mother’s graves, I am pointing toward the actual graves,” Smith said, referencing the nearby burial sites of Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and sister, Sarah Lincoln Grigsby.

Cast member Shane Denu of Jasper agreed the location is key. He plays “Black Jack Shellac,” a New Orleans snake oil swindler who tries to convince Lincoln to buy his magical elixir. Though the venue is covered, the outdoor setting can be sweltering and uninvited attendees can be a problem.

“The bugs are an issue, especially if you swallow one,” Denu laughed. “And the weather is tricky.”

The show goes on rain or shine, but the crew must be mindful of how the rain, humidity and heat affects sounds systems and electric units. Weyer said one year, a storm knocked out power, and the audience had to move indoors.

No matter the factors, the theater continues to lure.

Ferdinand twins Emmy and Elizabeth Miller, 14, are returning for their second season with the production. The girls are dancers and pioneers throughout the play and say the cast and atmosphere drew them back.

“The best part is definitely the cast and crew,” Elizabeth said. “It’s cool to see it all come together.”

“The directors are really good,” Emmy added.

This is the first theatrical experience for the girls, although they’ve been dancing since elementary school.

Emmy said the experience has opened her eyes to options such as attending school to study theater. Elizabeth agreed but isn’t sure she wants to pursue it as a career.

Jones said the Lincoln Amphitheatre and his plays have helped kick-start careers and provide exposure. Jones’ own career spans 35 years.

Jones said it took around a year to rewrite his previous play, “Lincoln Upon the Alter of Freedom.” Since it’s opening in 1987, the theater has hosted several plays about Lincoln,
Jones revisits his work each year to include new bits of information. This year, there are two new characters to the cast — David Turnham (Lincoln’s neighbor and friend) and Nat Grigsby, the brother of Aaron Grigsby, who married Lincoln’s sister, Sarah.

Performances will run Wednesday to Saturday evenings through July 26. The theater will give matinees Wednesday, June 25 and Saturday, July 13, at 2 p.m. CDT. A fried chicken dinner and roast beef dinner before the show is available with a reservation five days prior to the show date. Tickets are $19 for adults, $16 for seniors, $16 for students (7 to 21) and $6 for children six and under (A $2 fee is added for tickets purchased at the door the day of the performance). Prices include the state park gate fee.

Contact Hannah Fleace at

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