"Golden Horseshoe," A Musical Celebration of WV's First 150 Years Premieres in Clarksburg

By Kathy Johnston | June 21, 2013

A conversation less than a year ago about West Virginia’s Sesquicentennial, between playwrights R.J. Nestor and David Scoville and Vintage Theatre Company’s Jason Young, led someone in the group to exclaim, “Let’s write a play!”  And so they did.  And, it’s not just any play, it’s a well written and entertaining musical that engaged the audience throughout the performance. Scoville and Nestor collaborated on the writing and Nestor wrote the music and lyrics. The result was “Golden Horseshoe,” produced by Vintage Theatre Company, which premiered last night to a full audience.  The musical follows the story of eighth-grader Wes, played by Joshua Straub, as he struggles with West Virginia history while studying for the Golden Horseshoe test.

With the help of his father and his crush Rosie, played by Bekah James, Wes is led through the most interesting and important moments in WV’s past including the Civil War, the Hatfield and McCoy feud, and struggles within the coal industry. Figures like John Brown, Stonewall Jackson, and Waitman T. Willey come to life in this musical journey as Wes discovers his pride and passion for the mountain state and its heritage.

The premier performance of “Golden Horseshoe” was sponsored by Connect-Clarksburg. During the introductions, Mike Queen, publisher and managing partner, expressed how pleased and honored he was to sponsor the premier of the musical, which was “kicked off within 100 yards of the birthplace of Stonewall Jackson.”  Queen went on to say how he was excited to be part of things that are going on in downtown Clarksburg.  The Connect-Clarksburg offices are now located in the Uptown Event Center (formerly the YWCA).  The building is being renovated and serves as an event center in downtown Clarksburg.  Queen also mentioned how pleased he was to see a resurgence of the arts in Harrison County.  “Our high school students do some of the best productions in the state,” he stated, giving local students a chance to experience something they can’t experience anywhere else.  Several members of the Connect-Clarksburg staff were in attendance at the premier and Jason Young presented Queen with a signed show poster.

Tammy Heffner, who represented MVB bank, the sponsor for the evening’s performance, was presented with a framed commemorative ticket in honor of the event.  When asked her thoughts about the play, Heffner said she really enjoyed it, expressing how much she had been smiling during the performance.

Lisa Thompson of Queen Events catered the reception for the show’s premier.  As part of the Sesquicentennial, Thompson prepared a traditional apple stack cake for the state’s birthday, complete with lighted candles, which was served at intermission.

The play, which went from an idea to a workshop to a performance in a little over six months, truly engaged the audience.  The setting was minimalist and the audience was seated around the performance space in the ballroom of the Masonic Lodge.  The intimate setting put the audience right next to the performers, giving them a sense of involvement in Wes’ struggles, as well as those of the characters from West Virginia’s past.  Audience reviews were very positive, as evidenced by the smiling faces, interspersed with a few tears, throughout the production.

Playwright Nestor hails from the Mountain state and was himself a Golden Horseshoe recipient, as well as his father, mother and two sisters. Nestor’s father, a long-time coach and school administrator who passed away last summer, taught West Virginia history to eighth graders. Nestor says, “Writing this musical is a way to honor my father’s memory by celebrating the 150th birthday of the state he loved so much.”

The sense of West Virginia pride that the musical instills is almost palpable.  Scoville, the other member of the writing team, grew up in Maryland and Virginia, and said that “upon moving to West Virginia I've been intrigued by the love and loyalty that folks here have for their home state. Working on this musical is a way for me to share in that loyalty, a way to connect to my new home.”

The ensemble cast, which included Nicholas Ryan, Kody Mullens, Maggie Ludwig and Ashley Shade, was fascinating, rotating through a gallery of characters from West Virginia’s past.  Emerging periodically from the corners of the stage, the players brought a number of scenes and characters from West Virginia’s past to life.  Humor was interspersed with poignant moments as the characters helped Wes to understand events from West Virginia history.  “They were all great,” commented an audience member.  Straub was completely engaging as Wes, onstage continuously throughout the performance.  James was charming as Rosie, the object of Wes’ affections.  Memorable moments included Ryan breaking into song and dance as Stonewall Jackson in the musical number “When Stonewall Wasn’t,” Shade’s touching performance as Mother Jones, Ludwig as Wes’ West Virginia history teacher dealing with the distracted teenager, and Mullens’ engaging physical portrayals of a number of characters.

When asked about what it was like to see their efforts become a full performance with audience, Nestor said the chance to see the audience engaging was wonderful.  He was very pleased with the performance and said, “It was great to see what worked and what didn’t,” gauged by the audience’s reactions.  The musical is presented now as a preview production, but plans are in the works for additional performances in other locations.

At the end of “Thus He Swears,” one of the musical numbers in the play, Wes proclaims, “That was awesome!”  And truly, it was.

Performances of “Golden Horseshoe” continue on Friday, June 21 and Saturday, June 22 at 8 p.m. at the Masonic Lodge in Clarksburg.  Don’t miss your opportunity to Join Wes and his father as they celebrate WV’s first 150 years, reflecting on who we were and who we might become.

Tickets for the performances on Friday, June 21 and Saturday, June 22 are available by calling 1-888-VTC-8588. 
The performances are at 8 p.m. at the Masonic Lodge on Pike Street in Clarksburg.

This is a performance not to be missed!

Connect-Clarksburg staff includes Mike Queen, Publisher and Managing Partner; Ben Queen, Partner and Contributing Photographer; Belinda Hamrick, Webitor; Bob Stealey, Editor Emeritus and Columnist; Bill Nestor, Sports Editor; Kevin Courtney, Renee Courtney and Kathy Johnston, Freelance Writers; Tyler Vincent, Photojournalist and Rosalyn Queen Alonso, Chuck Arnett and Buddy Simmons, Columnists.

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