1,000 Miles of Theatre

“And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament;” – Daniel 12:3 (King James Version)

It is the end of a multi-month run of a show at Sight & Sound Theatres. The “install and logistics team” loads a convoy of tractor-trailers to make a 1,000-mile trek to Branson, Missouri, where the show will live on at the theatre’s second location. More than 60 truckloads of sets, equipment and costumes will make their way from Lancaster to a new home in the Ozarks over the next six months. 

Last summer I got a chance to meet some of the folks in Branson and tour the theatre. “It’s the same story, just 1,000 miles away,” says Kortney Neal, the marketing and customer relations manager at the Branson Sight & Sound Theatre. She leads me onto the stage of Queen Esther, which met with rave reviews when it ran in Lancaster in 2020 and 2021. The theatre is an immersive experience with a wrap-around effect as the actors’ space flanks out stage right and left. In center stage stands a massive palace alongside other multi-floored buildings. “Similar to the Lancaster theatre, we seat just over 2,000 people. The experience is going to be the same,” adds Kortney.

No it’s not déjà vu … the Sight & Sound theatres in Lancaster and Branson are nearly identical, which allows them to seamlessly share scenery and set pieces for shows such as Queen Esther and Daniel.

We are joined by Branson’s technical director, Luke Bates, who adds some specialized expertise to the tour. After a successful 2023, Queen Esther reopened on March 9 and will run through October 5 in Branson. “The shows are constructed in a certain way that they can move between the two theatres rather flawlessly,” explains Luke. “Technically, the contour is slightly different, but what worked in Lancaster will work on our stage. The building was designed so we could essentially cut and paste a show from one stage to another. We don’t have to completely reconstruct a set each time.” 

Queen Esther

“The size and scale of this production is pretty impressive,” notes Kortney. At 11,000 square feet, the palace is the largest set piece of any Sight & Sound production. Luke points to a connecting set piece running the length of the stage that weighs in at 120,000 pounds, the heaviest set piece in the history of Sight & Sound productions. The piece moves on a track system laid into the stage. Queen Esther pushes the limits of both stages. Every inch of the space is used by actors, animals and buildings.

The mechanical elephant seen in Queen Esther – one of the few manmade animals used in Sight & Sound shows – is lifelike to the touch.

“When the show opens, you don’t see any of this,” says Luke, who gestures toward the palace and array of other buildings. “When it comes into view you get that ‘ahh’ moment from the crowd.” The stage floor has a wide elevator, which allows cast and animals to appear between scenes as the story unfolds. Kortney credits the tech team for their creative ability to use sound, light, and, frankly, any means necessary, to create a stunning display of theatre.

Why Branson?

“When we set out to open a new location, we looked all over the country,” explains Katie Miller, Sight & Sound’s director of marketing and communications. “Branson quickly rose to the top. It felt like our ‘home away from home,’ and it still does. And it has been an honor to be a part of the Branson community.”

Just as in Lancaster, the lion and the lamb welcome guests to the Branson theatre.

Branson, Missouri, is big-show territory and the epicenter of entertainment in the Ozarks. A staggering 10 million people visit the city (population, 13,000) annually. What Branson lacks in population it makes up for in hospitality and top-notch entertainment. Branson is home to Dolly Parton’s Stampede, The Terry Bradshaw Show (yes, that Terry Bradshaw), Russian comedian, Yakov Smirnoff, and countless tribute acts – from ABBA to Elvis. Attractions include the Hollywood Wax Museum, WonderWorks and the Titanic Museum – and that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things to do in Branson. A grand Sight & Sound theatre was a natural fit.

Sight & Sound employs approximately 800 people, with 250 of those working in Branson. “We travel up to Lancaster to partner with the crew and staff, and they often come here to support us,” says Kortney.

The Process

It takes up to four years to produce a brand-new show. To start, a group gathers to craft the biblical story. Everything takes place internally, from scriptwriting to choreography, to costume, lighting and set design. “What surprises people the most about Sight & Sound is that we have a team of 150 people creating, writing, choreographing our shows here in-house. That does not really happen in theatre. We like to call it our ‘secret sauce.’ It is powerful to have all these people, like the costume, lighting and set designers, rubbing elbows every day and working towards the same goal. It brings a unique synergy to what we do,” says Katie.

Sight & Sound is known for incorporating live animals into their productions. Trainers and handlers are on staff. Check out an informational video at sight-sound.tv.


From watching the show on opening night (March 13), I could not tell which set pieces in Daniel were fabricated in Branson. But I know from talking with Luke that a dozen were, and those pieces will someday make their way back to Branson with the rest of the set after Daniel closes in Lancaster on December 31.

The show opens with a giant, wow-inspiring statue floating in from the back of the theatre as King Nebuchadnezzar has a worrying dream. The set transforms from the Palace of Babylon, adorned with massive pillars topped with winged lions and richly colored, “jewel-tone blue” walls, to multiple locations throughout the story. Most of the huge building pieces revolve to change the setting, while state-of-the-art CGI adds an element of reality seen only in the most elaborate productions. 

Kortney was in Lancaster for opening night. She was not the only one from Branson. There may be two Sight & Sound locations, but there is one team. “For the opening of Daniel, a whole bunch of our Branson team arrived in Lancaster. I walked into the theatre two days before opening night and one of the sales team members from Branson was vacuuming the lobby. It’s all hands on deck,” says Katie, with a smile in her voice. “We are one big team across the miles working together for one purpose, and that is to bring messages of hope and inspiration to our guests. We are each other’s biggest fans and biggest cheerleaders.”

PRO TIP: If you visit Branson, check in with Explore Branson (explorebranson.com), the official visitors bureau, to avoid any kind of timeshare pitches or inflated ticket prices. For tickets/information about Queen Esther, visit sight-sound.com/shows/branson/queen-esther/2024. For tickets/information about Daniel, visit sight-sound.com/shows/lancaster/daniel/2024.

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