A new stage show brings old friends to Shepherd of the Hills

A new stage show brings old friends to Shepherd of the Hills

The Shepherd of the Hills attraction in Branson was born around a 1907 novel by Harold Bell Wright. Titled “The Shepherd of the Hills,” it was based on Wright’s own sojourn in the hills of southern Missouri, where he “began to love the simple country folk of the Ozarks.”

Over the ensuing decades since the outdoor drama telling Wright’s story first took the stage in 1960, the attraction has grown to include a zipline canopy tour, the Copperhead Mountain Coaster, a ropes course and more. But the tradition of theatrical productions not only endures with “The Shepherd of the Hills” outdoor drama and “The Great American Chuckwagon Dinner Show,” it has expanded to multiple offerings, among them the “WhoDunnit Hoedown,” the “Funny Farm Dinner Feud” and, during the holidays, “A Shepherd’s Christmas Carol.”

New this season, “A Christmas Story” will be performed in rotation with “A Shepherd’s Christmas Carol,” both under the direction of Jae McFerron, who has found his niche as director of entertainment at Shepherd of the Hills.

McFerron, a native of Chaffee, Mo., says he took a summer job with Silver Dollar City while he was in college and remained with the theme park for 35 years — as everything from a street performer to a writer of comedy shows — before his wife’s health issues forced an early retirement in 2012. He’s as surprised as anybody that he found his dream job at the age of 65 at The Shepherd of the Hills.

McFerron inherited a “Toby show” from Shad Heller, a Branson fixture and the original blacksmith at Silver Dollar City. A “Toby show,” he explains, was a precursor of vaudeville, a traveling troupe during the time of the American Revolution that presented orators, singers, jugglers, flame eaters, knife throwers and always a melodrama in which the cowboy, lumberjack or hillbilly outsmarts the city slicker.

When Jeff Johnson, the boss at The Shepherd of the Hills, invited McFerron to bring his Toby show to the park, it was the beginning of a string of theatrical successes under McFerron’s guiding hand — culminating with this year’s addition of “A Christmas Story.” Unlike “A Shepherd’s Christmas Carol,” the popular story of Ralphie and his desire for an “official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and this thing which tells time built right into the stock” has not been reset to the Ozarks, McFerron says.

“It mentions Indiana, so we have to take the audience to that place,” McFerron says. “It never really tells us what year it is, but it set in pre-World War II, around 1939-1940, when the world kind of changed.”

Adapted for the stage from the 1983 movie, “A Christmas Story” at The Shepherd of the Hills will keep all of fans’ faviorite plot points: Flick will get his tongue stuck on the frozen light pole; Ralphie’s dad will battle the furnace and the neighbor’s dogs and win the prize of a lifetime — a lamp in the shape of a shapely woman’s leg; Ralphie’s mom will try to get Randy to eat and bundle him up like a mummy to go out in the snow; and Scot Farkus will bully the rest of the neighborhood kids.

But McFerron will manage all of this on a tiny stage with a 30-foot proscenium in front of a set shared with “A Shepherd’s Christmas Carol,” with both shows being performed on the same days. And they opened Nov. 1 with 11 full days of rehearsal.

And McFerron couldn’t be happier.

“This is what I’ve been waiting to do all my life!”



‘A Christmas Story’

WHEN — Through Dec. 26

WHERE — Shepherd of the Hills, 5586 W. 76 Country Blvd. in Branson

COST — $34.75-$49.75 includes dinner

INFO — theshepherdofthehills.com

Categories: Theater