Tag Archives: Derby Dinner Playhouse


Remembering Bekki Jo Schneider


NOV. 14, 1946 – MAY 4, 2018




Since her death from cancer on May 4, much has been written about Derby Dinner Playhouse Producer Bekki Jo Schneider and her achievements and contributions to our community and region. She was, after all, an extremely successful business leader in a field – for-profit theatre that’s not Broadway – in which the phrase “extremely successful business” is almost unheard of. The list of awards, citations, and official recognitions she received for her success, locally and nationally, is truly impressive.

And even though she had battled the disease for years, most of us who knew her still wonder how any human malady could actually have the power, the persistence – hell, the sheer nervy balls! – to take down Bekki Jo.

Even as we watched her grow weaker over the course of the last two years, no one – even among those of us younger than her – truly expected to outlive her: She taught us all the folly of underestimating her.

A product of Louisville’s South End, Bekki Jo was a Presentation Academy graduate, attended the University of Louisville, graduated from the University of Kentucky, and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. But if it can be said about anyone in theatre that they learned their craft in the trenches, it can be said so of Bekki Jo.

By the mid-1980s, she had already been the producing director of Shakespeare In Central Park (later, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival), the producer of Louisville Children’s Theatre (later, StageOne Family Theatre), and the producer of Lexington Children’s Theatre – leaving each one more successful than when she arrived.

In 1983, when Bekki Jo purchased Clarksville’s Derby Dinner, along with partner Carolyn Lamb and a small group of investors, it seemed like folly to those who underestimated her; dinner theatres across the country were failing, en masse, at the time.

But Bekki Jo Schneider had always had a dream – to spend her lifetime as a successful theatre artist in her hometown – and she had a plan to get there using methods honed from working in her formative years with the people who invented Louisville professional theatre.

While still in high school, she went to work for The Carriage House Players, the legendary group of local theatre pioneers out of whose ranks evolved Louisville’s professional theatre culture. There, Bekki Jo was both protégé and colleague to C. Douglas Ramey, Ewel Cornett, Richard Block, Monte Priddy, Mitzi Friedlander, Warren Oates and others who collectively created and populated the organizations which became Actors Theatre Of Louisville, StageOne Family Theatre, and Kentucky Shakespeare Festival. At one point in the late ’50s, The Carriage House even briefly became the first dinner-theatre in the region (if not the country).

At The Carriage House, Bekki Jo was “The Kid” who mopped the floor, ran lines with actors, applied their makeup for them, built costumes and sets, stage-managed and jumped into roles with no rehearsal when actors fell ill. Through that hard work as a “kid,” she learned the nuts and bolts of making theatre happen, but – just as important – she learned the craft of managing a company of artists while learning the art of serving Louisville’s local theatre audience.

She carried the lessons of success learned at The Carriage House with her forever and often cited three pillars when describing how to make a life as an impresario, in this order:

1) Take care of your company of artists and technicians and craftspeople as though they’re your family – their loyalty will measure your success.

Bekki Jo said often that her greatest joy as a producer was helping to make actors homeowners, wanting her family of theatre-makers to be firmly planted in the American Middle Class. At Derby Dinner Playhouse, she established a paid, floating “resident” company of actors, singers, and dancers, many of whom performed in several Derby shows a year. Bekki Jo was their willing matriarch, making sure they had work that paid, baby-sitting their kids when the need arose, advising them on everything from car-buying to wedding plans, bailing them out of jail, and providing eight meals a week to everyone working on a show. And she was the first one to hold and console them when life’s tragedies struck. In her lifetime, Bekki Jo employed hundreds, maybe thousands, of actors and craftspeople, many of whom moved here to work for her, then remained and set down roots.

2) Listen to your audience – without them you have nothing.

Bekki Jo’s finger was firmly planted on the pulse of her audience. She was quick to consult them when choosing Derby Dinner seasons. Hard to believe now, but in the 1980s, most dinner theatres didn’t operate with pre-picked seasons; each show opened with a tentative closing date and no definite plan for the next show. By defining theatre seasons, Bekki Jo was able to sell season-ticket packages to local audiences and also to the very lucrative tourbus/vacation circuit, which in turn boosted tourist income throughout Kentuckiana, earning Bekki Jo the kind of favor with local governments that most businesses covet.

3) Work harder and longer than anyone else.

Even through her cancer treatment (at least until the last few months of her life), Bekki Jo was the first one in the building each morning, usually at her office desk before 7 a.m., and often she was still there after the evening’s performance. When her own work was done, she did whoever else’s work needed doing, even if that meant pouring coffee for theatre diners in the evening.

The often-underestimated Carriage House “kid” learned well from her own mentors and, indeed, improved on the lessons gleaned from “The Pioneers,” none of whom achieved the continuous level of success, or earned the accolades, of their protégé. Currently, Derby Dinner Playhouse has over 10,000 season-ticket holders. And year-round, nearly every performance of every show in its 500-seat arena, including the daytime Children’s Theatre season, is sold-out. It is, simply, the most successful theatre in the region.

But Bekki Jo Schneider’s theatre influence extends beyond Clarksville today. The region’s vibrant performing arts community is full of her artistic offspring – the “grandkids” of the Pioneers – who passed through Shakespeare In Central Park, Derby Dinner Playhouse or the classrooms of every local university, where she taught at various times, who moved on to their own careers as theatre-makers and theatre-educators. To list the names would be to create a Who’s Who of today’s Kentuckiana theatre landscape. And beyond Kentuckiana, her protégés have made successful careers in the performing arts across the world.

And that was the fourth pillar on which she based her success: The need to pass it on. Bekki Jo was a fierce believer in the nobility of the artist’s place in the story of human culture. She took her greatest professional pride in knowing that her spirit inhabited even a small sub-chapter in that story, and that because of the joy she brought to her work and the passion she inspired in those who learned from her, that story – the artist’s story – would grow on, would grow beyond her and would continue to flourish in this region she loved so much.

Bekki Jo Schneider is missed, she is mourned, she is thanked.

And by many of us, she will always be celebrated.

Jon Huffman is an actor, writer and director living in Louisville. He is co-artistic director of Fleur De Lis Theatricals.screen-shot-2018-06-05-at-5-18-28-pm

From Derby Dinner Playhouse

It is with profound sadness that we share the passing of our matriarch, Bekki Jo Schneider.

For the past 33 years, Bekki has been the co-owner and producer of Derby Dinner Playhouse, but she has been much more than that. Sharing her talents freely with our community and our patrons, she guided Derby Dinner Playhouse into a new era. Leaving behind the stigma that was dinner theatre, she created a vibrant, welcoming venue, producing theatre of a caliber never before experienced by Southern Indiana theatergoers.

While Bekki’s resume includes other venues all across our region, her heart and soul belonged to Derby Dinner Playhouse. She worked tirelessly to bring and keep the Playhouse in the forefront of the arts community in the Metro Louisville area.

Under her leadership, the patronage of Derby Dinner Playhouse grew from hundreds to thousands. She gained the trust of our patrons by listening to them and meeting their needs from the moment they walked through the front door.

Bekki directed more than 150 plays and musicals during her time here at The Playhouse ranging from classics like Camelot and Arsenic and Old Lace to contemporary, ground breaking shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Dreamgirls.

During her tenure at Derby Dinner Playhouse, Bekki’s boundless energy led her to sit on hundreds of boards, teach thousands of students and mentor countless individuals.

Bekki’s vision for Derby Dinner Playhouse was clear. She created a safe place for artists from across the country; a place where they could come together to hone their craft and in doing so, give our community the greatest gift possible: a place to gather, share, experience and love one another. All of us here at The Playhouse look forward to carrying on her legacy, knowing that the impact of her presence in our community will be felt forever.


Rebecca Jo (Schneider) Saunders, “Bekki Jo” passed away Friday, May 4, 2018, at Norton Hospital in St. Matthews after a long illness. She was born Nov. 14, 1946 to the late Rogerlene and Joseph Schneider of Louisville.

Bekki Jo has been co-owner and producer of Derby Dinner Playhouse since 1985. A familiar face in area theatrical circles, she has amassed an extensive career wearing every hat known in the theatrical world. As a Producer and Artistic Director, she has worked for Lexington Children’s Theatre, Metroversity Summer Theatre, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, and has directed more than 600 productions in the United States and England. As a teacher, she taught theatre to students from kindergarten to college level at The Lexington School, Louisville Children’s Theatre, Jefferson County Schools, the University of Kentucky, Indiana University Southeast, Spalding University and the Kentucky Department of Education. She is a past board member of Leadership Southern Indiana, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and is past President of the National Dinner Theatre Association.

Over the years, Bekki Jo has received many distinguished awards for community and artistic achievement, the most recent being the 2017 Dan Mangeot Lifetime Achievement Memorial Award, the 2017 Leadership Southern Indiana Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2016 Arts-Louisville/Broadway World Lifetime Achievement Award, and the 2016 Indiana Leadership Association Distinguished Leader Award. Although her theatrical career has spanned the globe, the work she took the most pride in was as friend, mentor, educator, sister, mother, and Nana to many.

Bekki Jo is survived by her partner, David Myers; sons, Dudley Saunders Jr. and Jeremy Saunders; daughter, Karen Marion; stepdaughters, Annie Myers and Sally Scott; nephew, Jason Grant; grandchildren, Haley Marion, Livingston Marion, Madeline Grant, Rianissa Jo Saunders, Oliver Scott, Simon Scott and Lucy Scott.

In lieu of visitation, a celebration of her life will be held at a later time.

Memorial gifts may be sent to Kentucky Shakespeare, 323 W Broadway #401, Louisville, KY, 40202 or made online at http://kyshakespeare.com/donate.


More than OK

More than OK

On a cross country road trip, just wanting to get through the state of Oklahoma on a trip out west, we randomly pulled off the highway and into a state park to sleep. We had no expectations of the state and was in a hurry to get through it painlessly. Upon waking we were met with the most beautiful and wonderful surprise. Red Rock Canyon State Park was the first of many incredible sights in Oklahoma. I had similar expectations about the musical, set over a hundred years ago and wondering what relevance it could have for me. Derby Dinner Playhouse’s production of Oklahoma was similarly full of beauty and surprise. The seventy-eight-year-old Pulitzer prize winning Rogers and Hammerstein musical is timeless in its universal themes of love and jealousy, intrigue and danger set in the Oklahoma territory in the time leading up to statehood. The director addressed the audience before the play began relating the themes of warring cowboys and farmers in Oklahoma to the world today at large and the need for people with different backgrounds to find common ground and work together, regardless of what you believe or who you love. That statement resonated through the cornfields and the prairie in the love story of Curly and Laurey (Ryan Skerchak and Kaitlyn Sage), and the anger and rage of Jud (played menacingly by Bobby Conte), whose powerhouse voice filled the playhouse. Aunt Eller (Mandi Elkins Hutchins) is the elderly, wise matriarch of the little town outside of Claremont, Oklahoma. Played with wit and humor expertly by Mandi Elkins Hutchins, last seen as a gorgeous and flamboyant divorcee in Mamma Mia. Derby Dinner Playhouse consistently does so many things right from the plentiful salad bar and delicious buffet to the dessert selection. Southern home cooking featuring fried chicken and fish, turkey tetrazzini and carved ham and turkey with all the fixings was almost enough to fill us up, but the temptation was too great to not partake of a new dessert item, the pecan pie cake. The theatre attracts amazing talent as servers who double as footnotes, opening the show and showcasing desserts, drinks and future shows. Some of the servers pull triple duty as footnotes and cast members and never miss a beat in any of them. Oklahoma is chock full of traditional folk type music, Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, square dancing and even lasso tricks all performed exceptionally well. Combined with authentic period costuming, the viewers are transported to a different time in American life. Aesthetically, my favorite part of Derby Dinner Productions are the creative uses of space and set design. Theatre in the round presents unique opportunities for set pieces. The audience was literally on Aunt Eller’s porch and in the blink of an eye (with the help of creative lighting and dropped set pieces) we found ourselves transported to Jud’s frightening and steamy smokehouse. Corn stalks appeared and disappeared from the ceiling and lighting let us know that Laurey was having an intense, dark dream about Jud and Curly. One of my favorite moments came just as Laurey inhaled the smelling salts that would give her the answers she was seeking. Illuminated by a spot light as the rest of the stage slowly melted away in darkness, Laurey reaches back before sleeping. Her pose struck me as an exact replica of a favorite famous painting, Christina’s world by Andrew Wyeth. It was either an incredible coincidence or a bit of directing brilliance. I tend to

think the latter, as so much of Derby Dinner Playhouse’s production was brilliant. Like the diverse and wonderful state, the musical astonishes and delights from one end to the other.

Oklahoma runs through May 27, 2018 For show times and ticket information visit https://derbydinner.com

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive, Clarksville IN 47129


Derby Dinner Does It Right

1By JD Dotson | Photos by Christian Watson & JD Dotson

Open for nearly 45 years, Derby Dinner

Playhouse remains the only dinner theater of its

type in the Louisville/Southern Indiana region.

The theater in the round setup immerses the

audience in the action. There is not a bad seat in

the house, with actors entering and exiting the

centrally-located stage through the audience.

The shows range from huge Broadway mega-hits

to children’s programming, holiday favorites and

lighthearted comedies and musical acts.

I recently had the great pleasure of seeing

“Mamma Mia!” this season, a musical set to the

infectious music of Abba and was completely

amazed at what a brilliant production I witnessed.

The music and dancing had me singing along and

tapping my feet the whole time. Some of those

Abba songs are still stuck in my head.

I brought my hubby along, and we started out

with dinner, which is served buffet style with a

salad bar. I felt it was my duty to try everything for

the sake of being thorough. My spinach salad was

fresh and delicious, and the salad bar was loaded

with toppings as well as broccoli and tomato/

cucumber salads. I have a strict rule to not fill up

on salad when a buffet is involved but made an

exception for the sake of journalism. The buffet

was equally delightful on my second trip. Fried

chicken, pasta, carved turkey, broccoli and rice,

and a baked potato, and being a serious member

of the clean-plate club, I filled up. Luckily, we held

off on dessert until intermission.

The pre-show entertainment, or FootNotes,

consists of a group of men and women serenading

the audience during their meal with classic

Broadway show tunes and dancing. Then: There’s

my server! He was just here at our table taking a

drink order and – all of a sudden – he was singing

and dancing on the stage.

Derby Dinner Playhouse 525 Marriott Drive Clarksville 812.288.8281 derbydinner.com

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive

The FootNotes are made up of talented

performers doing double duty entertaining and

simultaneously serving. Our server did such a

great job at both. In between songs, the FootNotes

introduce new dessert items on the menu and the

cocktail of the day. The preshow ends with plenty

of time for a run to the buffet one last time before

the main event.

The first act began, and the audience was

immediately thrown on the docks of Greek Isle,

or a prairie, or a battlefield, depending on the

production. You feel as if you’re in the middle of

the action. Oh, and there’s my server again! He

was just here a few minutes ago getting my drink

order. He was everywhere – a super talented singerdancer

and still right there if we needed anything.

Intermission came and so did pecan pie ala

mode and hummingbird cake. I am a fan of dessert

in general, and this dessert did not disappoint.

Fresh and delicious, my sweet tooth was satiated

just in time for Act 2.

I have driven cross country and through the

state of Oklahoma. Thanks to Derby Dinner

Playhouse, the musical (“Oklahoma”) is so much

more entertaining than the state.

Thanks to this local – albeit nationally-heralded

theater – I have watched it snow inside for the

stage version of my favorite holiday classic “White

Christmas,” relived my young adulthood singalongs

to Abba and been transported to a Greek Isle with

“Mamma Mia!” and went back to my childhood

with the “Sound of Music.”

Derby Dinner Playhouse continues to bring the

best performances to our community and beyond.

The acting, singing, dinner and dessert all combine

for a perfect evening.3

Derby Dinner Playhouse continues to bring the best

performances to our community – and beyond.



Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “OKLAHOMA!”

oklahoma-photo-2018Derby Dinner Playhouse will present Rodgers & Hammerstein’s timeless musical OKLAHOMA!, opening April 11 and running through May 27, 2018.  For ticket information please call 812-288-8281 or visit


OKLAHOMA! is set in the Western Indian Territory in 1907 and tells the romantic tale of farm girl Laurey and her courtship by two rival suitors, cowboy Curly and the sinister and frightening farmhand Jud Fry.  This Broadway musical favorite brings the west alive with jubilant dance numbers, enchanting songs, and features some of the most memorable music ever written.  Musical highlights include “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin”, “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top”, “People Will Say We’re In Love”, “Kansas City”, and more!


OKLAHOMA! is based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs. It was Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first collaboration and remains their most innovative, having set the standards and established the rules of musical theatre still being followed today.  OKLAHOMA! debuted on Broadway in 1943 and the popular film version debuted in 1955, starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.


OKLAHOMA! is under the direction of Lee Buckholz with choreography by Heather Paige Folsom and Musical Direction by Scott Bradley.  The cast will include DDP newcomers Kaitlyn Sage as Laurey and Ryan Skerchak as Curly.  Other cast members are Matthew Brennan, Cami Glauser Bibelhauser, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Bobby Conte, and more!


Mamma Mia, Here I Go Again

Mamma Mia, Here I Go Again
By JD Dotson

It is, simply put, impossible to resist Derby Dinner Playhouse’s production of Mamma Mia, the 1999 hit musical set to the songs of ABBA. Everything about this production, including dinner, was perfection.

My husband and I started out with dinner – buffet style – and the salad bar. I felt it was my duty to try everything for the sake of being really thorough. My spinach salad was fresh and delicious, the salad bar was loaded with toppings as well as broccoli and tomato/cucumber salads. I have a strict rule to not fill up on salad when a buffet is involved but made an exception for the sake of journalism. The buffet was equally delightful on my second trip to it as it was on my first. Fried chicken, pasta, carved turkey, broccoli and rice and a baked potato, I worried that eating a huge meal like this would lull me to sleep. Mamma Mia is a musical that promises falling asleep is impossible. Also, we had dessert or pecan pie and hummingbird cake in our future during intermission.

It is fascinating how the songs of the Swedish pop band from the seventies combine together to tell a cohesive story. Mamma Mia tells the tale of the upcoming wedding of Sophie and Sky (Kayla Eilers and Nate Willey) on a tropical Greek Isle. Sophie’s mother, Donna (Jillian Prefach) runs the Taverna Resort, building the resort from the ground up while being a single mother. After finding Donna’s diary, Sophie invites three potential fathers, men from Donna’s past, to her wedding, unbeknownst to Donna.

In addition to American architect Sam (Stuart May), British banker Harry (Bobby Conte) and Australian adventurer Bill (Matthew Brennan), the wedding guests include Sky’s buddies/resort employees, Sophie’s girlfriends, and Donna’s best friends and former backup singers, the Dynamos: wealthy divorcee Tanya (Mandi Elkins Hutchins) and single, carefree Rosie (Elizabeth Loos). The men, all former lovers of Donna, were all under the impression they were the actual father of Sophie. Single Phil, former wildman turned banker Harry, and Donna’s true love Sam wove their stories and their loves through the songs of ABBA.

Being a longtime fan of ABBA, it was hard not to want to sing along and dance, but I wouldn’t want to take anything away from these amazing performances. Each actor did a great service to my memories of the band with wonderful voices. Sophie and Sky were perfectly cast, young, attractive kids in love and spent the pre-wedding nights in bachelor/bachelorette island partying amidst Sophie fretting about which invited guest was her father. The friends and islanders were such good energy, flipping and dancing all over the stage, popping in and out of windows set around the theatre and generally acting like young people celebrating upcoming nuptials, it was hard not to smile and sing along. Part of the magic of Derby Dinner Playhouse and theater in the round is the action is happening all around us, stage entrances and exits and every seat is a good seat in this theater. Derby Dinner does a phenomenal job of remembering where their audience is and playing to everyone. All of these performances were spot on, wonderfully acted, the choreography and stage direction were wonderful.

The main gist of the story is about the young kids getting married and finding out which man is giving the bride away. However, the scene stealing trio, the original Girl Power Group of Donna and the Dynamos, chewed up every scene they were in together. Donna, Tanya and Rosie had such great chemistry and comedic timing together, you really were transported to that Greek Isle and easily believed these women were the best of friends and realize the story is about much more.

I’ll refrain from sharing any spoilers, but I will say after everyone has taken their final bows and disappeared off the stage, the audience is given an enjoyable, unexpected surprise.

Whether you’ve never seen it or have watched the show in various forms a zillion times, you haven’t seen it like Derby Dinner does it.

Mama Mia runs through April 8. For show times and ticket information visit: https://derbydinner.com/show/mamma-mia/

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive

Pictured from left to right: Mandi Elkins Hutchins as Tanya, Jillian Prefach as Donna, and Elizabeth Loos as Rosie.

Press Release | Derby Dinner Playhouse will present the smash hit Broadway musical MAMMA MIA!

mama-mia-logoPRESS RELEASE
Clarksville, Indiana                                           FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Derby Dinner Playhouse will present the smash hit Broadway musical MAMMA MIA!, opening February 21 and running through April 8, 2018. For ticket information please call 812-288-8281 or visit derbydinner.com.

On a small Greek island, Sophie dreams of a perfect wedding — a dream that includes her father giving her away. The problem? Sophie doesn’t know who he is! Sneaking a peek in her mother’s old diaries, she discovers three possible fathers. She secretly invites all three to the wedding, convinced that she’ll know her father when she sees him. But when all three turn up, it may not be as clear as she thought! Told through the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs, MAMMA MIA! is a worldwide sensation that has audiences everywhere dancing.

MAMMA MIA!, with a book by Catherine Johnson and music and lyrics from Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, is a musical based around the music from the band, ABBA, of which Andersson and Ulvaeus were both members. Active between 1972 and 1982, the Swedish pop/dance group is one of the most popular international groups of all time. Memorable songs included in MAMMA MIA! are “Dancing Queen”, “Money, Money, Money”, “Take a Chance on Me”, “The Winner Takes It All”, and many more.

MAMMA MIA! is under the direction of Lee Buckholz with choreography by Heather Paige Folsom and Musical Direction by Scott Bradley. The cast will include Jillian Prefach, Kayla Eilers, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Elizabeth Loos, Matthew Brennan, Bobby Conte, and more.

This enchanting tale of love, laughter, and friendship features explosive dance numbers and a trip down the aisle you won’t soon forget!