‘Shepherd of the Hills’ play to close

The longtime Branson production 'Shepherd of the Hills' is based on a book set in the Ozarks by Harold Bell Wright.News-Leader

A longtime Ozarks tradition is taking a final bow.

The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theatre in Branson announced it will close on Oct. 19.

For 54 years, Harold Bell Wright’s epic story “Shepherd of the Hills” was performed.

“Rising costs in insurance and production, the new health care mandate and declining crowds are to blame,” read a press release posted Wednesday on the company’s Facebook page. “It is with a very heavy heart that we make this difficult announcement,” said Gary and Pat Snadon, owners of the park, said in a press release. “We have had an incredible run.”  

Linda Michael of Patton, Mo., has been back several times since she first saw it in 1992.

“We are going back and it just so happened it’s the last weekend they are supposed to be open. I am going to tell my husband so we can take our youngest. We took our oldest,” Michael said.

Dustina Reasons as Sammy and Lee Berhorest as Young Matt perform a scene at the Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theatre in 2006. Many local performers have participated in the show.The show experienced its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s when 2,000 people a night flocked to sold-out performances.

It was still selling out when Michael Frizell played the character Ollie Stewart in 1988.

Today he director of Student Learning Service at Missouri State University, but back then he was a student at College of the Ozarks looking for a summer job. He fell in love with it and stayed on until 1996.

The show requires more than 80 actors and actresses, 40 horses, a flock of sheep, several guns and rifles, a burning log cabin, and a vintage 1908 DeWitt automobile.

But there is more to Shepherd of the Hills than the outdoor theater, and those aspects will remain open: The Shepherd of the Hills Homestead will be preserved and maintained as a historical landmark. Tours of Old Matt’s Cabin, which is on the National Historic Registry, will be available during summer months.

Inspiration Tower and the Vigilante Extreme ZipRider will be open all year. The annual car show will continue. And during November and December, the annual Trail of Lights Drive-Thru and Christmas on the Trail Chuckwagon Dinner Show will still operate.

Since the first season, the outdoor drama says it has entertained millions of Branson visitors.

Frizell said when he was employed there, he worried the show would one day end because of the declining interest in Harold Bell Wright’s story and aging crowds.

Michael was disappointed in the news because she always enjoyed the show.

“It’s good clean fun so you don’t have to worry about what’s being said if you have kids with you,” she said. “ It’s just beautiful scenery there. You get out of the hustle and bustle of every day life and go there and it’s laid back and beautiful. I hope they reconsider.”


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