Unto These Hills: A Return to the Beginning | Cherokee, NC

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Unto These Hills: A Return to the Beginning

“Unto These Hills” is one of the oldest outdoor dramas in the United States. Over six million people have watched the performance in the Mountainside Theater since it debuted on July 1, 1950. In 2006, the script was rewritten, but this year, for the first time in over a decade, the original Kermit Hunter production is back, in a highly anticipated show that has been updated for cultural sensitivity and accuracy.

The new season runs from June 3 to August 19. See it under the stars with your loved ones this summer and witness the history, heartbreak, and triumph of the Cherokee people. [Buy tickets here.]

Charismatic and Dynamic

Mike Crowe, (shown below), one of the stars of “Unto These Hills,” describes the new production as being “more charismatic.”

“What happens in the play is the same as it was initially in the 1950s, but the third-person dialogue has been eliminated all together. That’s something that I really appreciate about this renaissance,” he says.

Mike has played many different roles in the drama over the years, including the lead of Junaluska, a historical figure who saved Andrew Jackson’s life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

This year, Mike plays a new character for the first time: Yonaguska, a prominent chief in the Cherokee area during the time of the Indian Removal Act. The new script focuses more on Yonaguska’s character than the previous version, and doesn’t resort to calling him “Drowning Bear,” a move that Mike Crowe says is a welcome change. “‘Drowning Bear’ kind of anglicized the Cherokee name, which is counterproductive in my mind,” he remarked.

The revamped Hunter script will more closely follow the story of Cherokee leader Tsali, and his family. During the roundup for Indian Removal, Tsali famously fought back against the soldiers, killing some of them in the process, and fled with his family. The Principal Chiefs condemned Tsali’s actions and set out to capture him and his sons in a harrowing part of the play.

Old Becomes New

Audience goers who enjoyed the original script will be delighted to see the return of Ms. Perkins, who, while not a historical figure, was one of the most memorable characters in the first production. Ms. Perkins will be played by alumna Laurie Sanders, who returns to the cast for the script revival. The cast will be bigger in this year’s production, going from a group of 48-55 to close to 70.

The wardrobe is also being created from the ground up, with an entire array of new clothing. Former cast and crew member Michael Berg is spearheading the efforts in the costume shop, along with Martha Sampson whose family has been involved with “Unto These Hills” since its genesis.

Another big change from the first Hunter production includes the length of the show. The original production was three hours long, and this version will last one hour and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Enlightening & Entertaining

If you’ve never seen “Unto These Hills” before, it’s a soul-stirring experience.

“People can expect to have a great deal of insight regarding the darkest time in our history and become enlightened to a story that deserves to be told, that is an integral part of American history,” says Mike.

“At the same, you’ll be entertained by the fight sequences and the story in of itself,” Mike adds.

The Eagle Dancers will also be returning.

“The most iconic image from Cherokee if you ask anyone who has visited in the past 70 years or more is the Eagle Dancers. That is going to be returned in its original glory.”

Dancing will also factor into the pre-show, which takes place thirty minutes before the main performance, and is included in the "Unto These Hills" ticket price. Cherokee songs will also be sung in the Cherokee language during the pre-show entertainment.

A Family Legacy

In his early years acting in “Unto These Hills,” Mike was fortunate to share the stage with his father, who performed in the play in the 1970s. His great uncle was also involved in the production in the early years, back in the ’50s. Last season, he was even joined for a time by his wife and two youngest children onstage (pictured below). 

Mike can remember a time when he was three years old and accompanied his father to the Mountainside Theater. “I remember walking in the first row where the light fixtures are hung. I got up on top of there and had one of those imitation rifles that they sell at the junk stores in town.”

For Mike, who has been performing in “Unto These Hills” for more than ten seasons, it was a moment of foreshadowing. “I remember that pretty vividly. It was pretty fortuitous.”

We asked Mike what he appreciates the most about his part in “Unto These Hills.”

“I’m interested in helping people have a better understanding of our people as a whole and why things are the way they are, and helping them have a greater perspective of the events that transpired in the early 19th century in this area.”

Mike adds, “I feel very privileged. It is an honor to be afforded that opportunity on a nightly basis. Even if you’re not from this community, to see the reactions of the patrons, it’s humbling and rewarding at the same time.”

Get Tickets

To purchase tickets online, visit this link. To buy tickets by phone, call toll free 866.554.4557. Tickets are also available at the Cherokee Historical Association box office at 564 Tsali Blvd., located across the street from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian (off Highway 441N), from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and during the summer season at the Mountainside Theatre, 688 Drama Road, from 4 p.m. until showtime. Paid reservations are held for late arrival. All tickets are held at the box office (cash, Visa, and MasterCard are accepted). We do not accept personal checks at any of our box office locations.

WHERE: “Unto These Hills” is performed at the Cherokee Mountainside Theatre, located at 688 Drama Road. Free parking for “Unto These Hills” ticket holders.   

DATES: The 2017 season runs from June 3 to August 19.   

TIMES: The show starts at 8 p.m. nightly. The theatre is closed on Sundays.   

“Unto These Hills” General Admission Prices:

Adults: $20.00

Children 6–12: $10.00

Children 5–under: FREE   

“Unto These Hills” Reserved Ticket Prices  

Adults: $23.00

Children 6–12: $13.00

Children 5–under: FREE   

Rain Insurance is $3.00 per ticket. Call the box office to get rain insurance with your ticket order up to the day before the show.

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