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Cinderella joins ‘The Stephen Foster Story’


Barbara Mattingly says it’s the first question hungry guests were asked when they tumbled into Kurtz Restaurant in Bardstown on sticky summer evenings in the 1970s, following their noses to skillet-fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy.

If the answer was yes, diners “got their food quick” so they could hurry across the street to the amphitheater in My Old Kentucky Home State Park for the phenomenon locals knew only as “the show”—The Stephen Foster Story.

“The coloring and the costumes and the music and the enthusi“enthusiasm in the audience was infectious,” says Mattingly, whose family asm operated Kurtz Restaurant and the adjacent Bardstown Parkview Motel until 2021. “It would play to packed houses over and over and over. It was amazing.”

Now in its 64th season, The Stephen Foster StoryThe Story was created in 1959 to boost Bardstown tourism. Generations of locals and visitors have enjoyed the outdoor show’s lavish costumes, timeless music and on-stage flights of fancy threaded with history. And since 2001, an additional Broadway-style musical production, sponsored by Salt River Electric, has delighted crowds with shows like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 2019, and this year’s production, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

The impact of the musicals is bigger than what happens on the stage. As a nonprofit, professional theater, The Stephen Foster Drama Association is a launchpad for performers, a booster for local business and a beloved community tradition that has grown through the decades. 

“I think the timelessness of it is the appeal,” says Associate Artistic Director Bronson Norris Murphy, who played the role of Stephen Foster during the show’s 2012 and 2013 seasons, and who directs this year’s productions. “It feels like home.”

The drama association offers three musical productions this season. Performances of The Stephen Foster Story take place at the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre on select dates through August 12, telling the story of American composer Stephen Collins Foster and featuring more than 50 of Foster’s greatest compositions, including Oh! Susanna, Camptown Races, Beautiful Dreamer and Kentucky’s state song, My Old Kentucky Home.

An indoor matinee option, The Songs of Stephen Foster, is a one-hour show performed at Nelson County High School featuring period costumes, choreography and favorite Stephen Foster tunes. Performances are set for Saturdays at 2 p.m. from June 24 to August 5. 

Performances of The Stephen Foster Drama Association’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella are set for Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. from July 12 to August 4. With only eight performances, Cinderella is expected to sell out. 

Additionally, a summer concert series features The Crashers, The Monarchs, Eliminator—Tribute to ZZ Top, and the Louisville Symphony Orchestra. Show times, detailed information and tickets are available at 

A community effort

Since the beginnings of The Stephen Foster Story, the local community has played an important part in leading and funding the nonprofit organization. Community members serve on the association’s board of directors, and local businesses offer sponsorship support. 

“We have always had an incredible amount of support from our community,” says Executive Artistic Director Johnny Warren. “Our business community, and their ability and their willingness to help produce these shows, has really stitched together our community around this incredible arts opportunity and the organization that we have been so fortunate to build here.”

Salt River Electric has sponsored the annual Broadway-style musical since it began in 2001. This year, in addition to the co-op’s annual support, Salt River Electric presented The Stephen Foster Drama Association with a $10,000 grant, funded by CoBank.

“The association and its musicals are a source of pride for our community,” says Salt River Electric President and CEO Tim Sharp. 

“Not only does The Stephen Foster Story entertain and educate thousands of visitors each summer, the second show typically allows for local community members to get involved, especially local students.”

More than just energy providers, Kentucky’s electric cooperatives are owned and led by the consumer-members they serve. It’s no surprise, then, that concern for community is a core value, and at Salt River Electric, supporting the Stephen Foster Drama Association is just one of many ways the co-op gives back. 

“Co-ops like Salt River are committed to improving the quality of life in the communities we serve,” Sharp says. “After all, that’s the principle we were founded on back in 1937. So, 86 years later, we’re still dedicated to making our communities a great place to be, and that includes helping to sponsor family-friendly shows like this.”

No business like show business

During its early days, and for years afterward, The Stephen Foster Story was the biggest driver of tourism in Bardstown, says Mattingly. Local businesses, like her family’s restaurant and motel, saw significant upticks in customers on show nights: “We’d have buses and people—it was crazy,” she says.

Nicky Rapier, who recently retired from Salt River Electric as an economic development advisor and has been a longtime member of the Stephen Foster Drama Association’s board of directors, points to seasonal employment as one direct economic benefit the musicals continue to provide.

“They’ll go from three full-time employees to 100 part-time employees,” Rapier says. “It has been a very important thread.”

The show’s longevity is another benefit for tourism in the community, says Nelson County Economic Development Agency President Kim Huston. 

“It’s the one thing that has remained constant here as far as tourism, and it brings in a different crowd,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to have diversity in our tourism offerings.” 

As a longtime supporter of the Stephen Foster Drama Association, Salt River Electric has invested not just in the arts, but in the Nelson County economy. 

“We are a true microcosm of society,” Rapier says. “It’s a partnership. If the community does well, the cooperative does well; if the cooperative can do well, they can help the community do well. They’re kind of joined at the hip.”

More to enjoy

When the drama association first launched its annual Broadway-style musical, “It was like a rebirth to The Stephen Foster Story,” Mattingly says. 

In 2023, after a three-year hiatus, Cinderella once again brings audiences a beloved favorite. 

“The thing I’m most excited about is getting to create, as a director, a world for our audiences that they have no preconceived notion of within the amphitheater,” Murphy says. “Nobody has ever seen our production of Cinderella before, so along with a fantastic artistic staff and crew, I get to dream up a world that we get to introduce to our audiences.” 

As the amphitheater’s first post-COVID Broadway musical, Cinderella celebrates community and shared experiences. 

“That’s what’s most important and most exciting to me—every opportunity we have to invite people to come together share an experience,” says Warren. “Cinderella being brand new, and being such a favorite title and a well-known story—it’s going to be so exciting to leave our screens at home and gather together to share the experience of the performing arts.” 

Back from Broadway 

For Bronson Norris Murphy, directing this season’s production of The Stephen Foster Story, Cinderella and Songs of Stephen Foster is a full-circle experience.  

A Bowling Green native, Murphy’s work with The Stephen Foster Story began in 2012, when he played Stephen Foster during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. In 2021, he returned to serve as associate artistic director.  

His love for The Stephen Foster Story, however, goes back all the way to childhood. 

“My parents took me to the amphitheater to see the show when I was a kid, and I fell in love with the majesty of it,” he says. “I fell in love with the grandeur, the scale of it. It’s so big, and the music was stunning.” 

In addition to his work with The Stephen Foster Story, Murphy is a seasoned performer. He recently completed a nine-year run in the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera in New York City, where he played Raoul and several other roles. Murphy is also known for his portrayal of The Phantom in the first North American production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies: The Phantom Returns, which toured the U.S. in 2017 and 2018; and for his roles as Gus/Growltiger and Bustopher Jones in the national tour of Lloyd Webber’s CATS. Additionally, he has performed at several regional theaters and in developmental productions in New York City. Learn more about Murphy’s work at

The Stephen Foster Story, through the years…

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