Jenny Wiley Theatre is eastern Kentucky's only professional theatre offering year round productions at the Jenny Wiley Amphitheatre and venues throughout the region.
In the summer of 1965, a small group of local actors from Paintsville, Kentucky presented South Pacific, Jenny Wiley Theatre's first production. After the success of that first musical, this group was invited to present the show again at the amphitheatre in Jenny Wiley State Resort Park. Although the Jenny Wiley State Resort Park amphitheatre was constructed with the intent of presenting historical dramas about the Big Sandy region (and in particular, Jenny Wiley's legend), that first play proved to be prophetic, for it was in musical repertory that Jenny Wiley Theatre found its destiny.
Since that first season of performances, JWT has presented countless productions, holding to the standards of the best summer stock theaters, while expanding their mission to include year round productions, tours and educational programming. Each season an array of musical, comedy, children’s theatre and touring productions can be seen at the amphitheatre and other venues throughout the region. Now nearing five decades of continuous operation, Jenny Wiley Theatre is one of the longest-running outdoor theatres in the country.
From its inception, JWT’s mission has been to enhance the quality of life in eastern Kentucky by providing professional theater and exceptional educational opportunities in the performing arts. The Board, composed of citizens from all across the Big Sandy and surrounding region, is not only committed to excellence in the Theatre's now year-round productions, but also seeks to stimulate overall participation in the performing arts experience. The Theatre is particularly proud of its Educational Outreach which sponsors performance programs in schools across the state and theatre workshops for youth throughout the year.
Over the years numerous aspiring actors, singers, dancers, musicians, and technicians have worked at Jenny Wiley Theatre. Many of them were talented locals who found an outlet for their creativity and an opportunity to enhance their professional development right here at home. Others were actors and technicians from all across the country who gained not only professional experience, but also the chance to experience our region's culture and beauty during their time at JWT.
A number of these professionals went on to achieve more visible roles in national television, theatre, and film. Most notable:
Tony Award Winner Michael Cerveris, (JWT during the 70’s) is now playing alongside Ricky Martin in Evita on Broadway. Cerveris has performed in many stage musicals and plays, including several Stephen Sondheim musicals, Assassins, Sweeney Todd, Road Show, and Passion. He won the Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Assassins. Playbill.com call Cerveris "arguably the most versatile leading man on Broadway", and he has played roles from Shakespeare's Romeo to Tommy in The Who's Tommy, from the German transsexual rock diva Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch to the homicidal title character of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.
Actress Sharon Lawrence was with JWT in 1987 in the role of Marian the Librarian in The Music Man. Some of Lawrence’s television credits include: Drop Dead Diva, One Tree Hill, The Glades, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Community, The Mentalist, Hitched, Desparate Housewives and NYPD Blue; She even had her own sitcom which also starred Dixie Carter – Fired Up.
Tony nominated actor, James Barbour has become one of Broadways most notable stars. He was with JWT in 1988 and 1989 with leading roles in Camelot and West Side Story. Broadway roles include The Beast in Disney’s Broadway production of Beauty and The Beast; Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities and starring roles in several Tony Award Winning productions including Assassins, Carousel, Urinetown and Jane Eyre. He also appeared in the Broadway production of Cyrano and the national tour of The Secret Garden. His television credits range from the pilots of The District, Just Shoot Me and Flashpoint to appearances on Sex and the City, Ed, That’s Life, and the upcoming film version of A Tale of Two Cities for public television.
Funny man and Kentucky native Jim Varney was with JWT during the 70s in the early part of his career. Varney was an American stand-up comedian, actor, musician, writer, voice artist, and comedian, best known for his role as Ernest P. Worrell. His Ernest character was used in numerous television commercial campaigns and movies in the following years, including Ernest Goes to Camp, giving Varney worldwide fame. One of his final movie roles was Jed Clampett in the 1993 movie version of The Beverly Hillbillies.
Disney star, Tommy Kirk was discovered by talent agents at the age of thirteen in a production of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California. Later hired by Walt Disney Productions, Kirk was cast as a clean-cut teenager in The Hardy Boys serial feature which was aired in the Mickey Mouse Club television series in 1956 and 1957. Kirk went on to starring roles in a succession of successful Disney feature films, including Travis Coates in Old Yeller, Ernst Robinson in adventure film, Swiss Family Robinson and many more. He joined the summer company at JWT in 1970 with roles in Hello Dolly, Little Mary Sunshine, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum.
Popular television host, Paige Davis was with JWT during the 1988-89 seasons with roles in Hello Dolly, Camelot and West Side Story. Davis is probably best known as the host of TLC’s Trading Spaces, TV’s groundbreaking design-reality show. Most recently she has been seen on Broadway in revivals of Boeing Boeing, and the national tour of Sweet Charity. She also starred on Broadway as Roxy Hart in the musical Chicago and played Babette in the first national tour of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast.
Lee Meriwether, along with her husband Marshall Borden, worked with late Director, Bob Bogdanoff in 1995 to create a special performance of Love Letters for JWT. Meriwether is probably best known as Miss America 1955 and for her television role as Betty Jones, the crime-solving partner in the long-running 1970s crime drama, Barnaby Jones. Lee also was the second woman to step into the Cat Suit in the role of Cat Woman for the 1966 Batman Movie.