Saga of ‘Shepherd of the Hills’ comes to stage in Tontitown

Saga of ‘Shepherd of the Hills’ comes to stage in Tontitown

At the heart of NWA Lights Up Theatre is a mission: To make theater accessible for homeschoolers and any other actors who want to get involved; to “open the doors for anyone of any financial background to participate and share their creativity”; to welcome actors of any age from 7 on up; and to be “a safe space for Christian performers.”

“We make it our goal to present shows that align with Christian values in a natural, true to life way,” says 19-year-old Maryann Koretoff, who is music director for Lights Up’s next production, an original musical version of “The Shepherd of the Hills.” “Though we never want our stories to appear ‘preachy.’”

Since its founding at the end of 2020 by Hannah-Ruth Hampton and Nadia Moutria, Lights Up has produced an earlier adaption of “The Shepherd of the Hills”; “The Count’s Daughter”; “A Kingly Christmas Carol”; “Hallelujah: The Story of William and Catherine Booth”; and “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” The company is now run by Hampton and Koretoff, who decided to circle back to the 1907 Harold Bell Wright story when Hampton was inspired by the song “Danny Boy.”

“That’s Howard!” she remembers thinking. Although most of the songs in the new musical version of the show — “a direct adaptation of the book” — are based on classic hymns with new lyrics, Hampton says, “I wrote the lyrics for our first song right then.”

In the story, which was based on Wright’s own experiences in the Missouri Ozarks, Daniel “Dad” Howitt, a minister, leaves the city and settles in Mutton Hollow, becoming a reclusive but beloved “shepherd of the hills.” Howard is his artist son, whose suicide helped send his father into seclusion.

“Daniel Howitt loves to help people, and I have always loved to help people,” says Mark Simpson, 68, of Springdale, who plays Howitt. “After I retired six years ago, I’ve had more time to focus on my personal walk with the Lord, and that has helped a lot in portraying Daniel Howitt.”

Forgiveness plays a big part in the tale, and cast members like 17-year-old Elizabeth Anne Morrow of Huntsville, who portrays Mandy Ford, hope “that it reaches someone’s heart — that they give their life to Jesus or are reminded of forgiveness and hope.”

“My hope for this show is that the people who attend will be inspired by the end of the show and leave filled with hope and the message of Christ,” says 14-year-old Martha Hacking of Garfield, who plays Bear Simpson, a member of the Baldknobbers gang. “Right now, the community is going through a lot of challenges as we deal with the results of the storms, and it is my prayer that the people of Northwest Arkansas will be blessed through this play, and be encouraged to keep moving forward.”

Koretoff says the best thing about the show has been seeing the community it has created.

“Working together week in and week out, spending hours at a time diving into the vulnerable, joyful, and sometimes silly elements of each character, creates a bond like no other,” she says. “I know the friendships our actors have formed will last far past our final curtain call, and it is an encouragement to me to see how far God has brought each of our actors, not just in their theatrical journey but in friendship and laughter.

“Theater brings together so many people who otherwise would never have had the chance to meet and learn from one another.”

“I want the audience to see [their] dedication, love and hard work,” concludes Hampton.



NWA Lights Up Theatre:

‘The Shepherd of the Hills’

WHEN — 1 p.m. & 5:30 p.m. June 15

WHERE — St. Joseph Catholic Hall, 192 E. Henri de Tonti Blvd. in Springdale

COST — Free; tickets at


Categories: Theater