‘Levisa’s Fury:’ A musical based on a tragedy

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By Steve Doyle

Levisa’s Fury, written by Mike Smith of Shelbyville, is a musical about a girl who is a fan of University of Kentucky basketball who becomes embroiled in a school bus crash and an abduction. It will conclude Friay and Saturday at the A. L. Birch Amphitheater in Clear Creek Park. It stars Smith’s granddaughter, Katie Hisle, and is directed Kathi E. B. Ellis. Veteran Shelbyville thespian Lynne McReynolds Chenault of Shelbyville is the musical director. Smith talked with The Sentinel-News about his production.

The Sentinel-News: What inspired you to write this play?

Mike Smith: I originally had a manuscript of close to 120 pages about a bus accident in the mountains in 1958. Twenty-six kids died in Levisa Fork. Then, I heard a Celtic Woman sing a song called "The Voice" by Lisa Kelly, and it seemed to fit perfectly because I had already written about Bluegirl, the leading character, hearing the G Voice. "You Raise Me Up" also came to me as a finish. Then I approached Cyndi Skellie, who had directed Katie [Hisle] for a bit part in Charlotte's Web. (she was Baby Spider Joy).

S-N: You have written books for years. How was it different to write a play?

Smith: A totally different experience. I spent several weeks taking out descriptive portions. Cyndi was really helpful in converting major portions of my manuscript into monologue. After the reading [at Shelby County Community Theatre], I met a playwright from Bardstown, Toni Wiley, and she gave me clues as to how condense my scenes.

S-N: How did you come to include music?

I was inspired by Celtic woman, and some gospel songs that fit.

S-N: You have an experienced director and musical director. How much has that helped you?

SMITH: Lynne [McReynolds-Chenault, the musical director] has been great. She came in at the last minute of our reading and has been working with Katie ever since. As for the director, I knew that Cyndi wouldn't be available, and I knew nobody else who could do it. And then, Kathi [E. B. Ellis] approached me, and it was like Meryl Streep knocking on the door and saying, "Can I be a part of your play?" Like, wow! With these two women and the late addition of Dawn Schulz, an experienced choreographer, I've been very fortunate.

S-N: Your granddaughter, Katie Hisle, won the leading role in audition. How did that make you feel?

SMITH: I had handpicked Katie and the entire cast for the reading, so she was familiar with the character, Bluegirl, as was Eli Megibben, who was Elizabeth. But I told Kathi from the outset that she had a free hand in choosing who she wanted. As you can see, she found some super talented people to bring on board. Neither Katie nor Eli asked me to intervene, and I didn't. Selecting them came solely from Kathi. In fact, she picked everyone. The only ones who participated in the reading are Katie, Eli and Lynne.


S-N: You have other individuals from Shelby County participating, too, right?

SMITH: Yes, we have six Shelby Countians in the cast. Katie, Eli, Tom Dunbar, Alex Goodwin, Tammy Fowler Foster and Brendan Chase Phillips.

S-N: What is your greatest worry about the show?

SMITH: The weather and getting people to come. Since I'm new at this and am inexperienced in getting the word out, I'm feeling my own way. I do have PR experience, and so does Kathi, so we're doing it together. Another worry is that nobody gets sick.