Stay tuned for a special announcement for the 2017 Mystery Dinner Theatre on January 2
After a short hiatus, the extremely popular Mystery Dinner Theatre made a dramatic return in 2015 with an all-new production: WHISPERS ~ Secrets of the Ely Mansion, featuring colorful characters offering a unique twist on the history of the Ely (Karlan) Mansion. The Mystery Dinner Theatre is one of the most requested events the park hosts.
Guests are invited to dinner at Karlan Mansion for a tongue-in-cheek mystery, complete with a three-course meal, served by the actors. The story unfolds as colorful characters lead the audience through three acts of fun, confusion and discovery. The cast is made up of park staff, Friends members and volunteers. All the action takes place around the dinner guests who by the third act will be invited to try to solve the mystery. Advanced tickets are required for this unique event due to heavy demand and limited seating. The play is an original production, written exclusively for Wilderness Road State Park.
HISTORY BEHIND "WHISPERS" - The subject for a new script began to shift in order to create a performance that focused on the historical elements surrounding one of the park’s icons. This prompted a new idea by the park’s concessions manager Mike Brindle, who tapped into the rich history the park has to offer, and came up with a script based on the Ely family who are responsible for building what is now known as the Karlan Mansion. In 1877, Robert Ely began construction of a large two-story brick home for his wife, Susan, and their daughters. In 1878, the home was completed and became known as Elydale, or the Ely Mansion. The house would later become known as Karlan Mansion when Virginia State Parks purchased the property in 1993.
The essence of the loyal commitment Robert had for his family is evident when studying the history of this old home. Even the brick was made by hand using the clay found on the farm. It was truly a labor of love. Based on that very foundation, WHISPERS ~ Secrets of the Ely Mansion was born.
A good friend of Brindle’s, Carolyn Hughes, wrote and directed the park’s first dinner theatre, which was successful beyond imagination. Brindle soaked in as much information from her as he could, and leaning on his experience from the first play, he took pen to paper to come up with the original script that offers a unique perspective to Elydale.
Next, casting was completed and included three veterans from the original dinner theatre series: Brindle, Donna Long, and Shawn Paul Williams. The remainder of the cast was made up of newcomers to the dinner theater: Michael Bonaventura, Crystal Kirk, Bonnie Banks, Matthew Bonaventura, as well as WRSP Manager Scott Bowen who would have a cameo in the production, while also serving as the lead in the kitchen.
The official announcement of Whispers ~ Secrets of the Ely Mansion was made by Wilderness Road State Park on January 13, 2015, with tickets going on sale that same day. The first performance was set for March 20, 2015 with show dates to follow on March 21, 27, and 28.
The first original performance date officially sold out on February 12, 2015. Over the course of a two week period, ticket sales soared with all four original performance dates being sold out completely. This prompted park officials to add two more performance dates, March 19 and 26, which again sold out within a week, making Whispers ~ Secrets of the Ely Mansion a complete sell-out show spread over two weeks and six nights.
Whispers opened with its debut performance on March 19, 2015 to a standing ovation and rave reviews. During its run, Whispers would become the largest revenue generating event in the park’s history.
"I have been to the park for the Candlelight Ghost Tour and the Mystery Dinner Theatre. I just love these events, I wish they could have them once a month." - Ginger Sullivan
"I have watched this park grow so much over the past 10-12 years. I really enjoy the Heritage Festival and listening to all the Bluegrass bands. And the Wilderness Road Trail is perfect for walking and riding your bicycle." - Janice Lowe
"My kids love to stop by and see the Buffalo. It's so nice to have these facilities right here in our region. The kids love the playground and the Junior Rangers program. And the Indian Ridge Trail is a great location to see some of our area's prettiest wildflowers." - Melissa Jackson