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Peter Pan

Peter Pan

Derby Dinner Playhouse Celebrates 45 Years


LEE BUCKHOLZ, producer and artistic director at Clarksville’s Derby Dinner Playhouse, surveyed the darkened theatre-in-the-round he’s called home for more than 30 years. “Forty-five years is a long time for any theatre to succeed,” he mused. “But we have not only succeeded, we’ve thrived.”

Derby Dinner Playhouse opened its doors in 1974, as part of a plan by area businessmen who wanted to build a convention, sports, and entertainment complex in Southern Indiana. Today, the sports complex is long gone, but Derby Dinner Playhouse remains and is more popular than ever.

We want to celebrate our 45th anniversary,” said Buckholz. “It’s exciting to think about the fact that of all the theatres that have closed in the last 10 years, it’s really remarkable how well we’re doing here.”

Derby Dinner Playhouse entertains approximately 220,000 people a year with a budget of nearly $7 million. With a record 10,500 season subscribers on the main stage and over 3,000 children’s theatre subscribers, Derby Dinner is now one of the most successful dinner theatres in the country.

While dinner theatre as a concept is more limited these days, in it’s heyday, dinner theatres drew large crowds, eager to see former stars in shows that featured light comedies, tried-and-true musicals and inexpensively produced shows.

In the late 1970s, Derby Dinner began the “Star System” – using retired TV and movie stars such as Mickey Rooney, Van Johnson, Dorothy Lamour, Jerry Mathers, Bob Denver and Sid Caesar as cast members.

Those days are gone. Today, Buckholz and his company produce eight main stage shows, four Children’s Theatre shows, 12 concerts and offer a Performing Arts Academy and summer camps each season.

Caesar Romero

Caesar Romero


A key to the theatre’s success is how it adapted to the times and listened to its audience. “Things have changed,” said Buckholz. “In the last 10 years, we’ve doubled our season ticket subscriptions, and the show selection and production quality has gone up.  I travel to New York, Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago to bring in talent, and we utilize the incredibly strong arts talent base in Louisville.”

“This area is an attractive draw for performers,” he added. “It’s not uncommon for someone to come in and do a show and still be with us ten years later. It’s a surprise to them. They’ll sign a contract out of New York, then arrive here and like it and want to stay in the area. That’s an amazing opportunity for them because, as an actor or singer, the minute you start a show, you’re looking ahead to the next show and next paycheck.  The fact that we’ve kept a lot of our talent shows we’ve found a nice balance between our performers, our audience who gets to know them, and the high quality of our productions.”

Cary Wiger should know. He arrived at Derby Dinner Playhouse as a young actor and “Barnstormer” singer in 1985 and never left.  A fledgling career as a high school biology teacher quickly faded away once Wiger dove into his Derby Dinner life, which now includes acting, singing and working in corporate sales.

Dinner theatre in general has changed over the years,” Wiger said. “When it started it was a lot of the silly comedies, and smaller shows, but it built our audience. The joke was if a theatre was struggling, throw in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ because it draws an audience and fills the coffers.”

But over the years, Derby Dinner built that audience into a large subscriber base that allows the theatre to be more adventurous with its shows. “The audience knows us and trusts us to entertain them with quality shows,” said Wiger.

The intimate in-the-round setting and pre-show Footnote musical program (formerly called “Barnstormers”) allow actors to interact with patrons and get to know their audience. Wiger laughed, “A few years ago, I had Lasik surgery. When I’d take my glasses off on stage it was just a blur, but when I came back for the first performance after surgery, I could see faces and it scared me! It changed my perspective. Seeing and getting to know them made a difference.”

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney

Many of the positive changes at Derby Dinner came under the guidance and leadership of Bekki Jo Schneider and Carolyn Thomas, who purchased the theatre in 1985. The pair worked tirelessly to build the theatre into the success it enjoys today. Thomas retired about a decade ago, and Schneider died in 2018 after a long battle with cancer. The theatre is currently run by Buckholz, and Cynthia (Cindy) Knopp, general manager and co-owner.  Knopp is also Thomas’ daughter.

I’ve been here since I was 13 and I’m nearly 60 now,” Knopp said. “I followed in her footsteps through high school and after, then later came back when my mom was ready to retire. You can always find ways to do things more efficiently, but the basic principle works here, and we are good at it.”

Knopp is not sure what the magic potion is, but points to the family atmosphere among employees and even customers. “We genuinely care for our customers, our employees, and our community. One of the things my mom taught me was you always should learn as much as you can in every opportunity you’re given, and I try to do that. That’s what brings me joy.”

Steel Magnolias

Steel Magnolias


The 45th anniversary season kicks off in May with the southern comedy of manners, “The Savannah Sipping Society,” and includes special performances of “Shrek The Musical” in July, “Million Dollar Quartet” in August and a Christmas treat of “Elf the Musical” in November and December. Derby Dinner’s traditional mystery slot includes a new take on the classic “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” in October, and the hit Broadway comedy “Boeing, Boeing” will tickle audiences in January 2020. Buckholz is thrilled to round out the beginning of 2020 with “Saturday Night Fever” in February, and the well-loved “Anything Goes” to end the season in April 2020.

“We’ve wanted to do ‘Saturday Night Fever’ for years,” said Buckholz. “It is already selling like crazy, and sales for ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ are off the charts as well. Our 45th anniversary season is so exciting. There isn’t one show in it that’s ‘the’ show to see. They are all such blockbusters in their own way.”

The season will also include shows in the popular children’s theatre, summer classes and the Performing Arts Academy. Tina Jo Wallace, another long-time actor, singer and now Children’s Theatre director, sees the results of decades of community support.

“These are often the children of our subscribers, who were themselves the children of our original subscribers. These kids have grown up around us and who knows what it could spark in their lives,” said Wallace. “We’ve had many children come back later as actors or staff, and we’re grooming the next generation of patrons and performers.”

“We show them what theatre is,” added Wallace. “So, if we show them non-professional schlock, then we’re failing them. If we show them great, focused, exciting work, they realize that and appreciate it. We might be a child’s first exposure to theatre, and that’s a great responsibility.”

Buckholz knows Derby Dinner Playhouse is one of many competitive players in the talented Louisville and Southern Indiana arts scene. “It’s not so much about being super competitive, because. we’ve all sorta found our niche and we fill that well,” he said. “The amount of theatre options we have for people in a city of this size is amazing. But, there are things that set us apart from the Louisville arts scene.  Of course, we are proud to be in Southern Indiana. We have free parking. We feed you. We entertain you.  Our price point is so remarkable and a great value. Derby Dinner Playhouse offers a complete experience and is a full evening for less than you’d pay just to see a show in downtown Louisville.”

“I’d put the quality of our actors, professional staff and shows up against anyone,” he added. “We’ve reached the point now that the quality you see at Derby Dinner Playhouse is the same as the quality at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, Actors Theatre, Pandora or anywhere in the area.”

The anniversary season will be bittersweet, following the recent passing of Bekki Jo Schneider. “One of the things she said to me before she died was, ‘I want you to take this theatre and move it forward,’” said Buckholz. “I took that to heart. While the 45th anniversary will be a love letter to Bekki’s life, it’s also Derby Dinner’s new steps forward.  It will be easy to celebrate her instead of being melancholy. She would want a good show. We’re not looking to change the world, we’re looking to entertain.  And, that’s what we are going to do.”

Gary Burghoff

Gary Burghoff


A minute with Lee Buckholz, producer and artistic director, on the 45th anniversary season at Derby Dinner Playhouse.


LEE BUCKHOLZ: “This show is so funny and harkens back to good, old southern women.”
A laugh-a-minute comedy about four Southern women, all needing to escape their day-to-day routines, who are drawn together by fate – and an impromptu happy hour.
MAY 22 – JUNE 30


BUCKHOLZ: “How fun is this? This is a show for kids and kids at heart. Everyone loves Shrek.”
Everyone’s favorite ogre is back in the hilarious fairy tale adventure based on the Oscar-winning, smash hit film.
JULY 3 – AUG.18


BUCKHOLZ: “This will be fantastic. It’s a bit of a jukebox musical but plays so well and brings back so many great memories.” 

Broadway’s hit rock n’ roll musical inspired by the electrifying true story of four young musicians who gathered at Sun Records for what would be one of the greatest jam sessions ever.
AUG. 21 – SEPT. 29


BUCKHOLZ: “Everyone loves a mystery, and this one has great, smart writing and comedic moments. It’s a fun take on a classic story.” 

Sherlock Holmes is on the case and must crack the mystery of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” before a family curse dooms its newest heir. A murderously funny adventure!
OCT. 2 – NOV. 10, 2019


BUCKHOLZ: “Elf is going to blow the doors off this theatre. It’s a huge, fun, show, with a big cast. If you loved the movie, you will love this show. It’s a blockbuster.”

Based on the hit movie, “Elf” is the hilarious tale of Buddy, a young orphan child who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole.
NOV. 13 – DEC. 31


BUCKHOLZ: “It’s been about 10 years since we’ve done this show, and we have many cast members returning for this super fun show.”

This hit Broadway comedy is filled with chaos, matchmaking, and mayhem!
JAN. 8, 2020 – FEB. 16, 2020


BUCKHOLZ: “We’ve wanted to do this show since it became available several years ago. It has been rewritten several times as it was performed across the country and we’re at a point right now where the rewrite is great. And, the music in it – just, wow.”

This energetic musical adaptation of the ’70s classic film is the story of a talented, streetwise kid from Brooklyn who attempts to escape his dead-end life through dancing. Featuring many disco-era hits by the Bee Gees.
FEB. 19, 2020 – MARCH 29, 2020


BUCKHOLZ: “I just love a great big, classic musical and this is one of my favorites. There’s so much in this Broadway revival: great costumes, fantastic tapping, and, you can’t go wrong with Cole Porter.”

Music, dance, laughs, and the age-old tale of Boy Meets Girl. A hilarious shipboard romp wrapped around one of Cole Porter’s most magical scores. Critics call it “A delightful, delicious and de-lovely Broadway musical!”
APRIL 1, 2020 – MAY 17, 2020

Derby Dinner Playhouse

525 Marriott Drive

Run for Your Wife

Run for Your Wife

Web of Murder

Web of Murder

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid


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!

Not Throwing Away My Shot

My experience auditioning for Derby Dinner Playhouse

BY REMY SISK | PHOTOS BY CHRISTIAN WATSONscreen-shot-2018-01-31-at-4-22-05-pm

AS A MUSICAL THEATRE ACTOR in Kentuckiana, I have often wondered what it would be like to be on the stage of Derby Dinner Playhouse, the region’s preeminent dinner theatre.

The quality of Derby productions is always top-notch, from their technical production value to their supremely talented casts.

I’d thought about auditioning at Derby’s periodic open calls on multiple occasions, but for whatever reason – I thought I wasn’t good enough, I thought there wasn’t a role for me, etc. – I had backed out each time. However, at their recent January call, one of the auditionees was a semi-awkward 26-year-old tenor whose palms were sweaty and water bottle was almost empty upon arrival…in other words, it was me.

I have a problem that many musical theatre performers can likely relate to: I am not great at auditioning.

I can sing my song well, do my monologue proficiently and look natural the whole time while at home, with a coach or in the car, but the second you put me in front of a table of individuals judging my ability, I overthink the song, fumble the monologue and look uncomfortable doing both.

But this audition wasn’t for a smaller local company; it was for Derby Dinner Playhouse, a professional theatre where, if I were to be cast, I would be able to call myself a paid, working actor. With that knowledge, I resolved to make this audition my best in years.

Derby’s criteria for an audition is a one-minute monologue as well as 16 bars of music or one full song – both fairly standard.

My monologue choice was easy. I have one that I’ve used on a few different occasions, and I knew it was the one I wanted to perform. It’s from the groundbreaking play “The Laramie Project” and is spoken by a college student who recounts getting into an argument with his parents when he tells them he’ll be auditioning for “Angels in America.” The monologue fits me, as it’s meant for a younger actor, is a little awkward and goofy and also deals with some deep subject matter. I re-read it a couple times, made some new choices and it was ready to go. The song, on the other hand, was a much trickier selection.

Any musical theatre actor has their “book” or catalog of songs they’ve collected over the years that fit their voice well, show it off or are just particularly right for them.

I started looking through my book and couldn’t make a choice. “I’m Alive” from “Next to Normal” is usually my go-to, but I felt it wasn’t the fit for this audition. “Moving too Fast” from “The Last Five Years” was another option, but it also seemed wrong. “This World Will Remember Me” from “Bonnie & Clyde” almost became my selection, but Derby actually did that show not too long ago and I wanted to avoid comparisons. After further deliberation, I settled on “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin.” My only hesitation was that it can often be seen as an “overdone” audition song, but I knew it fit my voice and was an appropriate choice for the venue. Right or wrong, the decision was made.

I worked with a friend of mine who is also a vocal coach a few days before the big day, and we selected the portion of the song I’d be performing at the audition. Derby asks for 16 bars or one full song, and we both thought it safest to go with 16 bars to save myself from the possible embarrassment of being cut off mid-song. We tweaked a few things here and there, and the cut – the last minute or so of the revival version of “Corner in the Sky” – was as ready as it would ever be.

I started audition day at Please & Thank You (a coffee shop in Louisville) reading over my monologue and trying to keep my nerves from getting the best of me.

I swung by FedEx to pick up my resume and headshot before heading home to make possibly the hardest choice of the day: my audition outfit. I looked through button-downs, t-shirts, dress pants, jeans and, at long last, settled on an open-collar henley (Google it) and dark, skinny jeans. My “type” in musical theatre is usually on the edgier or rock side of things, so I wanted to give that off while also not looking like an actual rocker (my torn-up black jeans did almost make the cut, however).

Driving to Derby, I sang “Corner of the Sky” once, but knew I was just going to psych myself out if I beat it to death. So, as I crossed the Second Street Bridge in 30-degree weather, I threw the windows down and blasted David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise,” singing it all at the top of my lungs. Maybe not the most conventional audition prep, but it weirdly put me at ease.

I pulled up to the theater and walked into a room of about 30 other people, some of whom I knew. Many had traveled from hours away for the audition, and the ages spanned from teenagers to older adults. We were eventually ushered to Derby Dinner’s rehearsal hall, where Associate Producer Lee Buckholz and Director of Children’s Theatre/Performing Arts Academy Tina Jo Wallac were waiting for us.

Everything from there on was executed in the most professional manner with all instructions and information relayed in a manner that was both clear and kind. With an affable smile, Buckholz let us know that we would be coming in 10 at a time to sing 16 bars (if auditionees had prepared a full song, they now needed to select their best 16 bars) and then possibly perform their monologue if he and Wallace wanted to see more. The first group of 10 went in and, with almost no service on my phone, I was left with only my thoughts for 20 minutes or so.

I could’ve looked over my monologue or my song but decided to just trust that I had prepared all I could. I would go in and give it my best shot, knowing all the while that there’s nothing I could have done differently in advance. And even if I was going to mess up and botch the audition completely, the experience of auditioning for a professional theatre and putting myself out there would be gratifying enough.

They called the next 10, and in we went. We all took a seat and handed in our resumes. With that same genuine affability, Buckholz called us up one by one to show the accompanist our music cut and then do what we came here to do. I was called maybe seventh or eighth, so I had plenty of time to watch as several extremely talented individuals performed their songs and, in some cases, their monologues.

When he called my name, I handed my music to the pianist and took my spot on the X in front of Buckholz and Wallace. The room was massive with mirrored walls and high ceilings, and there I was alone in the middle of it with two people watching from 15 feet away. My only hope in that moment was that I wouldn’t mess my song up enough to not get to do my monologue. Admittedly, as someone who’s been in theatre for years, I understand that not being asked for the monologue doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want you – it just means they’ve seen “enough.” Nonetheless, I was confident about my monologue and very much wanted to be able to perform it.

The pianist gave me my starting note and off we went. Bizarrely, I actually felt comfortable singing the song. It went well, and – as far as I could tell – my high note at the end was on pitch. I finished, and by the grace of God heard the words, “Do you have a monologue?” I sure did and launched right into it. I thought I did it justice, and I even got some laughs from the other auditionees in the room. I finished that as well, sat back down and suddenly noticed my heart was racing. The adrenaline was surging strong, and I was thankful there were only a couple more to go in our group. While the next person was going over their music with the accompanist, a woman next to me leaned over and whispered, “That was fantastic!” It probably meant nothing to her, but her compliment made me feel so tremendously relaxed as I waited for us to be released.

Buckholz told us that as the choreographer was ill, there would be no movement call, so we were free to go. I walked outside across the snow-covered lawn to my car. Ordinarily, leaving an audition, I feel down on myself, frustrated with myself and annoyed with myself for my inability to do better. But, I left feeling positive, knowing that possibly for the first time in my life, my audition went as well as it could’ve gone. Now, that doesn’t mean I gave a Broadway-worthy audition, but I performed at a level I was proud of. I gave it my best shot in a supportive environment after preparing as much as I could without overdoing it, and whether or not I get called in for a show, that feeling made the whole experience more than worth it.

Interested in auditioning? 

Derby Dinner’s next open call is 1 p.m. Aug. 24 and no appointment is necessary. Just show up at the theater at 525 Marriott Drive in Clarksville and have a one-minute monologue memorized and 16 bars of music or one full song prepared (bring sheet music for the accompanist!). Be sure to bring a resume and headshot and be prepared for a dance combination to be taught. As Derby Dinner is a professional theatre, previous theatrical experience is required, and you must have availability to rehearse in the day and perform at night. 

For more information visit derbydinner.com or contact Annie Myers at amyers@derbydinner. com or 812.288.2632 ext. 114. 

Bumps & Beauty with Angie Fenton | Episode 5: Casting Call

Extol Magazine
Extol Magazine
Bumps & Beauty with Angie Fenton | Episode 5: Casting Call

Have kids interested in modeling and acting? Well, professionally, that is… if so, you’ve come to the right podcast. In this episode, Angie speaks with special guest, Heyman Talent agency director and talent agent Kathy Campbell, about all the ins-and-outs of modeling at an early age, and how to best handle this interesting field as a parent.


1205 E. Washington St., Ste. 107, Louisville, KY 40206


Editor-in-Chief of Extol Magazine and new mother Angie Fenton hosts Bumps & Beauty.  Each episode, Angie will ask guests to share their parenting experiences and advice.

Parenthood: a mix of challenging moments and wonderful memories. This is Bumps & Beauty, presented by Extol Podcasting.

Make sure to pick up your copy of Extol’s October/November print edition, which will hit stands second week of June in more than 500 locations throughout Southern Indiana and Louisville.

Want to contact Bumps & Beauty? Send an email to Extol@ExtolMag.com. Subject line: Bumps & Beauty.

If you would like information about advertising on or hosting Bumps & Beauty at your location, please contact jason@extolmag.com.

This episode is proudly sponsored by:


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