'Texas ' to open 51st season Friday

Last Updated by Chip Chandler on
Stars of the 51st season of "Texas," opening Friday.

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

Generally, the producers of Texas toss their casting net wide to fill the lead roles of the outdoor musical drama. But this season, the top-billed actors were found much closer to home.

All of the leading roles for this season — which opens Friday in the Pioneer Amphitheatre in Palo Duro Canyon State Park — will be played by actors who are either from the Amarillo region and/or attend West Texas A&M University in Canyon.

"It just worked out that way," director Dave Yirak said. 

Newlyweds Brandon and Rachel Dawson — who got engaged on stage at one of last season's final shows — star as stalwart Calvin Armstrong and city-transplant Elsie McLean. Married choral professors Brian and Cloyce Kuhnert return as Uncle Henry and Aunt Anna, patriarch and matriarch of the musical, while Reilly Downes and Caleb Brink return as rambunctious Parmalee and adversarial Dave Newberry. Comic relief characters Dude and Flip will be played by newcomer Dakota Brown (who'll also understudy as Tucker Yelldell) and returning Tyler Bunch. And Kris Miller and Kim Hernandez return as ever-popular Tucker Yelldell and Kate Lucas.

"It wasn't by design. It was simply the talent that was there," said Miller, who also serves as executive director of Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation, which produces the show.

Neither Yirak nor Miller were sure when the last time the starring roles were filled by primarily local talent, though Miller said it has been at least six years since married actors played Calvin and Elsie (Patrick and Stephanie Earl in 2010).

Both credit WT's increasingly strong theater department, and its new musical theater arm, for the casting.

"Here lately, WT's kids have been coming out and are very talented," Yirak said. "They're used to work, and their training is really good.

"Who better to tell the story of the Panhandle?"

For those who've yet to see the musical, that's indeed what Texas is: A fictionalized retelling of the settling of the Panhandle and the conflict that arose between ranchers and their wide open spaces and those seeking to fence off the land and bring in civilization.

Uncle Henry represents the earliest white pioneers, those who battled the Comanche and other tribes to secure the land, while Calvin represents the second wave of farmers and others ready to build towns and cities. The musical, modeled after other outdoor dramas and owing no small debt to Oklahoma!, was written in the early 1960s by Paul Green in a project spearheaded by the late Margaret Harper and others. 

Hundreds, if not thousands, of actors, dancers, musicians, hospitality crew and more have worked in the canyon since.

"This is an ever-growing family," Downes said.

This season's production will be staged at 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sunday in the amphitheater; dinner from Feldman's Wrongway Diner will be served between 6 and 8 p.m. The season closes Aug. 20.

Tickets are $16.95 to $30.95 for adults and $12.95 to $26.95 for children. Meals are an additional $16 for adults and $9 for children.

Call 806-655-2181 or visit www.texas-show.com.


Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and at www.facebook.com/chipchandlerwriter on Facebook.    

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