November 18, 2022

Shawnee State University’s Musical Theatre program recently premiered “Split Hickory” for the world to see. A brand-new musical about the realistic happenings in the Appalachian area, the show illustrates the broad backgrounds of family, friends, and the overall community. Allyson Withers (Hometown: Circleville, Ohio), who plays the lead role of Bonnie Leatherwood in this original production, is grateful for getting the chance to develop and bring this character to life.

photo of actors performing
Allyson Withers (left) is grateful for the opportunity to bring her character to life for the first time in the world premiere of “Split Hickory” at Shawnee State University.

“It has been stressful, but it also has been one of the best experiences ever,” she said. “I love Bonnie so much. Getting the honor to develop this character from the ground up has been one of the best things.”

Majoring in Musical Theatre, Withers was inspired by her older sister at a young age. Watching her sister perform at their hometown’s community theater was an eye-opening experience for her. She took this artistic interest and brought it to life in her program at SSU.

“My freshman year here at Shawnee, the very first show that we did was ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ which is my all-time favorite musical,” she said. “Audrey was my dream role and I got to play her.”

Within “Split Hickory”, there are numerous characters that face their own problems that the audience can connect with. The show explores deep topics including the LGBTQ+ community, the military, and politics.

“In seeing the show, keep an open mind,” said Withers. “Especially when it comes to some of the heavier topics. It is a beautiful, beautiful show with all of its emotional and intense scenes.”

Being part of the first cast to perform this show, Withers and her peers were dedicated to the challenges that present themselves when putting a show together.

“Typically, when you do a show, the show is already completed, but this show is brand new and has never been done before so we didn’t get the final script until about two week before,” she said. “It was still in the workshop and being created by the great (playwright) Elizabeth Alexander. Watching us bring these characters to life was just as emotional to her as it was for us. It is stressful, amazing, and an honor.”

Withers and the cast understand and are grateful for the unique opportunity they had to be part of a world premiere show during their time at SSU.

“If Elizabeth continues to develop the show and decides to take it other places, I will forever be written into the show and that means a lot to me,” she said. “I will be the first girl to get to play Bonnie. So, people in the future will get to listen to me and base Bonnie off of me as well as their own developments. It is overwhelming and crazy to think about.”

Looking forward to the next SSU Musical Theatre production, Withers encourages other students to be involved with the program.

“If you want to be part of a musical here at Shawnee State, you do not have to be a musical theatre major to audition,” she said. “We are in the process of getting shows together for next year. If you are interested in performing, we want you to come audition.”

To learn more about the Musical Theatre program at Shawnee State University, visit