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MSU music alumni collaborate on ‘Trail of the Lonesome Pine’ theatre production

This past summer, Eagles from MSU’s Department of Music, Theatre and Dance found themselves coming together on the same “Trail.”  

MSU graduate Ryan Wardell (15) and MSU graduate student Ryan Blevins collaborated on a production of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama” in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Blevins, who portrayed the lead role of Jack, was directed by Ryan Wardell and the production was under the general management of Jim Wardell (89).  

“The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama,” based on the novel by John Fox Jr., is the Official Outdoor Drama of Virginia and one of the longest-running outdoor dramas in the country. Set in Wise County, Virginia, at the turn of the 20th century, the love story between Jack and June is played out against a feud that has been boiling for over 30 years between two influential mountain families.   

Blevins started doing musical theatre and opera while earning his Bachelor of Arts in Music at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. He currently serves as a graduate assistant at MSU while working toward earning his Master of Music Performance, which he expects to complete in Fall 2019.  

“I am very thankful for my time here at Morehead State,” Blevins said. “Coming from a small college, I felt right at home here at MSU. The small music department provided me with the chance to get the individualized attention I needed to succeed.”  

Ryan Wardell is the artistic director for “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama” and is an active performer, vocal pedagogue and conductor. He received a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance in 2015 and a Master of Music in Vocal Performance in 2017 from Morehead State. In his time at MSU, he served as assistant director and vocal coach for Operaworks, with whom he will be assisting in preparation for their December 2019 production, “A Light unto the Mountains.”   

“In my time at MSU, I was incredibly fortunate to have studied with faculty members that took a personal interest in ensuring the success of their students,” Wardell said.  

Jim Wardell, who serves as the general manager and producer of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama,” is the director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. He earned his Bachelor of Music Education from MSU in 1989.   

He said working with and witnessing the talent of these young, up-and-coming Eagle performers allowed him to appreciate how MSU’s music programs equip its students for success 

“The thing that I truly loved about working with Ryan and Ryan was seeing firsthand that the students graduating from the MSU music department today are talented and well prepared as performers,” he said. “More importantly, they understand the commitment and effort it takes to bring together a quality production on the scale of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” and were willing to put in the hard work that made our season a success.”  

For more information on MSU’s Department of Music, Theatre and Dance, visit, email or call 606-783-2473. 

Photo, top: Ryan Blevins (center), graduate student in the Master of Music Performance program at MSU, performs with the cast of "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama" in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Photo credit: Brandon White.

Photo, right: Ryan Wardell (15) served as artistic director for the production of "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama" this past summer.