Amish Acres

Amish Acres® Historic Farm and Heritage Resort is Listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is America's most complete Amish heritage experience featuring historic interpretation, culinary and performing arts, lodging, and shopping.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

“Life Could Be A Dream” Showcases Acting from Actors

Take a moment before the show when you attend the Round Barn Theatre to see “Life Could Be A Dream,” and take a look at the mug shots of the actors in the program. You can help but notice the photos bear no resemblance to the characters as played onstage during the fast-paced performance of this musical.

That’s called acting.

Take Conor McGarry’s earnest portrayal of Denny Varney, in whose basement most of the show takes place. He’s the real dreamer of this show. Despite his mother’s insistence that he “Get a Job,” (and yes, that’s one of the oldies in the show), he sees himself as the leader of this duet, ah, trio, no, quartet featuring five strong singers.

All the characters, like the fledgling doo-wop group Danny and the Dreamers, are a work in progress. Featuring Danny, Eugene, Wally, and Skip, they’re practicing hard, preparing for a talent contest which they hope will be their stepping stone to fame and fortune. Along comes Lois, who hopes a little polish will push them over the top.

Cash Maciel is spot on as Eugene Johnson, the Nervous Norman of the bunch, who also effortlessly and consistently displays amazing vocal gymnastics throughout the evening, as in “Tears On My Pillow.”

Steven Drake plays Wally Patton, the preacher’s kid who is, if not holier-than-thou, at least appreciative of a good peanut butter and banana sandwich.  In seeming to occupy a bigger space than his size, Drake’s affable portrayal conceals then reveals a sharper edge to this character. 

And Cody Davis presents a start contrast as Skip Henderson, the grease monkey from the wrong side of town, ostracized in both worlds he inhabits. Unlike the others who grow their identities, Davis as Skip immediately expresses the angst behind these seemingly upbeat numbers because the character has already done some heavy duty living.

I said this is called acting, but it’s also called directing. David Craven has done yeoman’s work at the Round Barn before, most recently in last season’s magnificent “Happy Days.” While “Life Could Be A Dream” is part of a lightweight genre known as the Jukebox Musical, typically featuring a string of readymade hits that sometimes are meant to compensate for a thin plot, in this case Craven had crafted, with his actors, strong, memorable characters that we care about. The show is, as the song says, “Just Like Romeo and Juliet,” with star-crossed lovers from different worlds, only nobody gets killed and there’s a happier ending. Thanks to Craven’s guidance the musical provides characters worth caring about while never losing a sense of fun.

Craven also provides seamless choreography. It’s perfect when it needs to be, but it also accomplishes the difficult task of being graceless and clumsy when it better suits the situation. Both are equally difficult. Kids, don’t try this at home.

It’s a part of economic and logistical reality that many musicals feature recorded music, usually of a very high quality, but “Life Could Be A Dream” should not be missed because it features a live ensemble consisting of Music Director Steven Zumbrun on keyboards, Jonathan Brown on drums, and Ji Hoon Kang on the Saxophone. As strong as the vocals are in this show, any time you want you can listen beyond the singers and you’ll discover the accompaniment is every bit the equal of the onstage activity.

I hate to single out one performance in what is a uniformly strong ensemble, but Sarah Williams is True North when she sings “Unchained Melody” at the end of the first act. It’s the strongest composition in the show, with the most poetic lyrics, and Williams provides the best performance of the evening. Whereas David Craven’s choreography keeps the actors in constant motion consistent with the plot throughout, he has chosen to keep Williams very nearly stock still, strengthening our focus on her vocal and her acting. Her work is supported by the exceptional acrobatics of Ji Hoon Kang’s saxophone accompaniment. There are many good reasons to return to see this show a second time, but this song merits a third visit.

Williams plays two roles, that of gratingly lovable Mrs. Varney, Denny’s mother, as well as the queen bee Lois Franklin, the daughter of the owner of the local auto shop, which makes her royalty in this town. Her transformation from her father’s daughter to her own person is one of five metamorphoses in the show, which also happens to be the theme for this season at the Round Barn. All the characters grow into the person they ought to be, something we see clearly in the final, fun numbers, “Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” and “Rama Lama Ding Dong.”

Notice that in the first line of this blog I said “when you attend the Round Barn,” not “if.” That’s because a show that includes “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer,” “Earth Angel,” “Only You,” “The Glory of Love,” and “Duke of Earl,” along with many other songs including some I’ve mentioned earlier, pretty much compels you to go. The songs alone are worth the visit to the Round Barn.

But thanks to the work of David Craven, the cast, the ensemble, and everyone else involved in the show, “Life Could Be A Dream” will touch your heart as well.

Go see it.

The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres presents “Life Could Be A Dream,” Written and Created by Roger Bean, Musical Arrangements by Roger Bean & Jon Newton, Additional Musical Arrangements by Steve Parsons, presented by Special arrangement with Stage Rights, Wednesdays through Sundays through May 12. For subscriptions, reservations and information call 800-800-4942 or go to

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

It’s Time For Optimism: Just Ask Annie!

2019 comes a little early this year, thanks to a little girl named Annie, who has a huge effect on the economy, the presidency, and a billionaire’s heart.

“Metamorphosis,” that whole business about caterpillars turning into butterflies and maybe us folks with two feet planted firmly on the earth taking wing ourselves, is the theme for the upcoming season at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee, which features six musicals and a comedy filled with change, growth, and transformation.

And it’s also the theme of “Annie,” the holiday musical that closes the 2018
season at the Round Barn. We learn that one girl with a big smile, hope in her heart, and a belief in tomorrow, can change a world without hope in a dark time.

When the musical was first presented in 1977, New York City, where the musical is set, was mired in debt, crime, and despair. The Watergate corruption scandal fed a general attitude of skepticism about life in general. Words like “ennui” were used to describe the national spirit. But “Annie” with its positive spirit and its theme song, “Tomorrow,” demonstrated that Americans still believed that “The sun’ll come out tomorrow,” and that sooner or later things would get better.

They did. Get better. And they will. Bet your bottom dollar.

After all, it’s only been a decade, back in 2008, since Elkhart County was the poster child for the crash and recession we were enduring back then. “Annie” reminds us that grit, determination, and help from the government continues to help people recover when times are tough.

Come to think of it, “Annie” was part of the Round Barn Theatre’s own metamorphosis in 1996 when, at the encouragement of Joseph Stein, creator of the flagship production at Amish Acres, “Plain and Fancy” (as well as “Fiddler on the Roof”), the first musical repertory season was inaugurated. That season included a production of “Annie.” Sarajane Mullins was the title character of that production. Now an equity actor based in Boston, she returns to the Round Barn Theatre as Miss Hannigan in this year’s production!

Well, since I have your attention, let me bring up another metamorphosis while I’m at it -- my own. Full Disclosure -- I was asked to take a part in this year’s production of Annie, sharing the role of Franklin Delano Roosevelt with Artistic Director and Choreographer Jerry O’Boyle. And because I’ve been attending rehearsals I have the opportunity to remind audiences of one very important fact they may not think about.

Theatre is hard work.

“Annie” is an energetic show, with lots of singing and dancing, all of which is possible only because everyone stays in shape and works hard to make it look, not easy, but like life!

“Annie” began rehearsals while another show was on the boards, meaning some people rehearsed the upcoming musical while performing once or twice a day in another play.

Each actor came to work on time, prepared to give tremendous energy to learning their parts, even though life continues to go on, both near at hand and often very far away while family and friends go through life’s triumphs and crises.

Every actor had lots to do beyond rehearsal to get ready, studying their parts, learning lines, and contributing to the wellbeing of the theatre regardless of whether they’re in a particular show or not.

And every actor is prepared to work even harder at every show to insure it is a special occasion for you, your kids, and your grandkids when you put together your special holiday at the Round Barn.

Maddi Reese Ames plays Annie this time around with a smile that will enchant every audience. In addition to Mullins she’s joined Sarah Leigh Beason as Mrs. Greer, Kaitlyn Bell as Kate, Derek Brookens as Drake, Cora Callander as Tessie, Danae DeShazer as Grace Farrell, Jake Duvall-Early as Rooster, Savanah Griffin as July, Lucy Hanmond as Molly, Dan Hasy as Oliver Warbucks, Cora Kneisly as Molly, Naomi Moyer as Pepper, Kyulee Sark as Duffy, Chloe as the Star-To-Be, Ameliz Sutherland as Lily St. Regis, Jazmine Tamayo as Mrs. Pugh, with Darl Horning, Andrew Kear, Dave Kempher, Violet Race, Akira Waranbe, and Hanna Williams in the Ensemble.

Executive Producer Richard Pletcher is also Set Designer. Managing Artistic Director Ryan Schisler directs “Annie.” Elizabeth Wickens is Assistant Choreographer. Alejandro Gutierrez is Music Director. Austin Schoenfielder is Production Stage Manager, Karen Payton is the Costume Designer,

The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres presents “Annie,” Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Martin Charnin, Book by Thomas Meehan, November 9 through December 31, produced by special arrangement with Musical Theatre, International. American Sign Language Performance December 1, 2:00 PM. For information and reservations call (800) 800-4942 or go to

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Six Doors Slamming, Two Tenors Singing, Everyone…Confused. Hilarious!

Who’d a thunk that Othello could be so funny? Okay, maybe Shakespeare’s tragedy remains one of the most painful of his plays to watch, but if you just get the H out of the way Otello the opera can become a real laugh riot when it is at the heart of the Ken Ludwig’s farcical “Lend Me A Tenor.”

Mistaken identities, quick costume changes, romance and bromance, alarums and excursions, along with six (count ‘em, six) stage doors banging open and slamming shut go back to Menander’s ancient Greek comedies, which were passed along through the Romans and Shakespeare to our day and ended up, plop, in Ken Ludwig’s lap. As the worthy heir of an ancient tradition this modern master of farce is well served by Director Charles Burr, who knows how to bring it all to life on the Round Barn stage.

The play is set in a time when opera was the life blood of a theatre, especially because, then as now, the rich and well-heeled support it not so much because they love it but because it’s simply that’s what’s done. It is September of 1934 and the Cleveland Grand Opera Company is expecting to reap a financial harvest of overwhelming proportions when it scores the coup of landing the famed Tenor Extraordinaire from Italy, the stupendous Il Stupendo, Tito Morelli.

At the play opens Max, Factotum and Tenor Wannabe, is panicked because Il Stupendo seems to have missed his train. Played by DeBryant Johnson, we watch in awe as a Milquetoast gradually grows a spine, becomes a Master and wins his truelove’s, well, hand. Johnson’s debut in Nappanee is a triumph.

Danae DeShazer charmingly plays Max’s erstwhile fiance Maggie, who gives her heart and soul to Il Stupendo -- or so she thinks! DeShazer is both demure and demonstrative in turn, turning her character’s course on a dime.

The real Tenor, aptly played by Christopher Cherry, falls into a deep stupor in the wake of his wife Maria’s walk out. Chloe Solan as Maria and Cherry excel in portraying the sort of love that both survives and perpetuates constant conflict!

Saunders, the entrepreneurial giant (with the heart of a mouse) assumes Il Stupendo is dead, and sees his imagined good fortunes crumble into ruins in a moment. Tucker Curtis, who plays Saunders, is a sure-handed performer who dominates the scene even as all seems lost -- until he gives in to Mad Max’s plan to replace Il Stupendo himself! He’s also the father who only thinks he controls his daughter.

Travis Bird, versatile as always, performs a star turn as the Bellhop who is both an opera aficionado and an efficient servant. Rita Kurtz returns to the Round Barn, and is hilarious playing the dowager Julia, who is monarchical and a sensual tiger -- at least in her own mind.

And no opera company is complete without its own local Diva -- in this case named Diana, played by Hannah Williams. Williams skillfully navigates the clever but difficult trail of double-entendre’s in a scene where she attempts to use Il Stupendo as a stepping stone to her own imagined pedestal.

“Lend Me a Tenor” represents the Round Barn’s annual departure from musical theater for a more conventional drama, but there sure is a lot of singing for a stage play, and that’s to the good, because Christopher Cherry, DeBryant Johnson, and Travis Bird sparkle in their operatic moments.

Ludwig signs off on this riotous comedy with a fantastically fast recap of the entire show, doors opening and closing with a rapidity reminiscent (at least to my generation) of Laugh-In’s slam bang one-liners. Taut and tight, this play delivers.

The Book for Lend Me A Tenor is by Ken Ludwig, Produced by special arrangement with Samuel French. At the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres through November 4th. For reservations and information call 800-800-4942 or go to

Monday, June 18, 2018

Mamma Mia Rocks the Aisles

Review, Frank Ramirez, Senior Pastor, Union Center Church of the Brethern
Richard Pletcher, Executive Producer of the Round Barn Theatre, remembers when he first heard about the hit musical “Mamma Mia!”. "Friends of mine came back from London in 1999 and raved about ‘Mamma Mia!’ at the Prince Edward Theatre," he said. Once he heard the description of the show he thought, "I dreamed of producing the musical on The Round Barn Theatre's stage. Now 19 years later the time has come; it's a dream come true."

In case the title of the show didn’t make it clear, “Mamma Mia!” recycles the enormously popular music of ABBA, weaving it through a simple but effective plot. Sophie, having been raised on a Greek island by her single mother Donna, discovers her mother’s diary and suspects her father may be one of three men. As Donna makes arrangements for the wedding to take place on the island hotel her mother owns and operates, Sophie invites all three men to her wedding, hoping she will recognize which one is her father, which will lead to him walking her down the aisle.

Ah, it’s not that easy. But with ABBA’s music backing the story, you can rest assured that despite all the twists and turns, things will turn out mostly okay!

Director Mike Fielder and Choreographer Melanie Greyson have molded a talented cast into a hit making machine. The action is fast paced, the dancing is crisp and imaginative, and the performers in “Mamma Mia!” hit their marks and make an impact. Music Director Paul Rigano directs the musical talent to best effect.

The cast mixes a blend of Round Barn newcomers with many favorites from previous season. Taylor Moran, one of those making her Round Barn debut, and veteran Amber Burgess, who plays her mother Donna, are a double star, spinning around each other, around which everyone else orbits. The two are well-paired, representing different generations and aspirations, but the same earnest desire for life and love.

Violet Race and Sarah Lee Beason are tethered to Moran, playing her friends who fly in for the wedding, balanced by Katie Barnes and Heidi Ferris who play Donna’s former band mates, tied together in a threesome of unfulfilled hopes and dreams.

The three potential Dads, played by Ryan Schisler, Dion Stover, and Jake DuValley-Early wander from one sphere of influence to another, with Patrick O’Keefe (playing fiance Sky), seemingly adrift in the midst of this confusion.

The company, including a talented ensemble, performs at the level one would expect, each taking a star turn as needed.

If the plot, which is not complex, seems a tad familiar one should not be surprised. As Pletcher noted, “Of interest to our theatre, the plot of “Mamma Mia” is nearly identical to Broadway's 1970's  “Carmelina.” Alan J. Lerner's production was written by The Round Barn Theatre's mentor and namesake, Joseph Stein. Typical of Joe, he never complained about the similarities, I believe because “Mamma Mia” is such fun, he didn't want to rain on its parade." 

Warning -- the music of ABBA has been shown to be addictive. You’re likely to be humming songs from this show for days afterwards. On the other hand, you won’t mind that at all.

The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres presents “Mamma Mia!” by Catherine Johnson, based on the music of ABBA, Composed by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, through July 15. “Mamma Mia” performances run in repertory with “Plain and Fancy” and are Wednesday – Saturday at 8 p.m., and Thursday and Sunday at 2 P.m. For information and reservations call the box office at 800-800-4942 or go to

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Rat Pack Comes Back for a Day, It’s Worth the Trip

“The Rat Pack Lounge,” currently playing at the Round Barn Theatre, kind of combines “Heaven Can Wait” with “Damn Yankees.” Three seemingly saved souls with a mission to fulfill temporarily occupy another’s body only to find themselves face to face with a Faustian bargain.

And that’s what may give this show a lift above most “Jukebox Musicals.” We not only get one unforgettable song after another, but there’s also a plot involving real growth in the characters.

That and the fact we’re talking about three stalwarts of the famed Rat Pack here.

Vic Candelino (Greg Matzker) has inherited the failing dive known as “The Rat Pack Lounge.” Decades earlier Frank Sinatra made a careless promise, while waiting for his bus to be repaired, that he and his companions Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin, would one day return.

They never did.

As the show opens God reminds the three that, as thankful as he is for a few recent favors they’ve done for him in heaven, he is the real Chairman of the Board. Not only that, as a result of their careless and unfulfilled promise Candelino is about to end his life. It’s up to them to stop this from happening or they’ll end up in a warmer climate -- and God is not talking about Vegas.

This premise allows our three central characters to portray the mannerisms, style, and stylings of the three musical legends without actors Max Mattox, Jake DuVall-Early, and Bradley Keiper having to look in the least like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin.

DuVall-Early might have the toughest task -- transforming from the white janitor Bobby Goldberg who mops up at the Rat Pack Lounge into the original Candyman who sings “What Kind of Fool Am I?” That latter number is a tour-de-force, as DuVall-Early channels Sammy Davis Jr., singing the song as Ethel Merman, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney and Sean Connery among many others. DuVall-Early shines here and throughout the show.

Meanwhile Bradley Kieper transforms the shepherded Portuguese tourist Jeorge Rodrigues into the affably comfortable Dean Martin, who never seems to have to compete with the others because he’s comfortable in his own skin. Kieper reminds me of Dean’s pleasant presence on so many television shows in my childhood, singing “Volare,” “That’s Amore,” and “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.”

Max Mattox plays the real estate baron William Saunders, passed out at the bar, who is inhabited by Frank Sinatra’s spirit. I hadn’t thought about the song “High Hopes” in the longest time, but that just might be my favorite song by Sinatra. It was Sinatra who made the thoughtless promise that is the premise of the show, and Sinatra who faces the temptation to make a deal with the devil for eternal fame against redemption. Mattox happily pulls off this twisted plot device!

One of the happiest decisions of the writers was to give the iconic “My Way” not to the Sinatra character, but to Candelino. Matzker manages to initially sing it painfully poorly but later with authenticity as he teaches us that life is for living. There’s an everyman quality to Matzker’s portrayal that is honest and endearing.

Randa Meierhenry, who graced the Round Barn stage last season, is back as the angelic Angie, who keeps the boys on track. She’s responsible for my two favorite numbers in the show, “Too Close for Comfort,” and “Fever,” mostly because she’s that good.

One reason the show works so well is Musical Director Paul Rigano’s heavenly live accompaniment on the theatre’s new vintage baby grand piano. Meierhenry’s lighting design is one of the most effective of the past few seasons at the Round Barn. Richard Pletcher’s set design makes the most of the dimensions of the Joseph Stein stage and is especially effective with regards to the transformation of the Rat Pack Lounge during the intermission.

Artistic Director Amber Burgess doubled -- or tripled -- as Director and Choreographer and thanks to her the show is in constant motion without the movement proving distracting. Her choreography for “Angel Said” gives the impression of a large production number with only four actors. That’s worth celebrating.

When I was seventeen the Rat Pack had been around forever and it seemed as if they’d always be there. “The Rat Pack Lounge” demonstrates that the songs have lasting power, especially when they come alive through this talented cast and crew.

The Rat Pack Lounge, Written by James Hindman and Ray Roderick, Musical Arrangements by John Glaudini. At the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres through May 20. For reservations and information call 800-800-4942 or go to

By Resident Blogger
Frank Ramirez
Senior Pastor
Union Center Church of the Brethren

Friday, March 30, 2018

Amish Acres and Convention Bureau enter Marketing Partnership

A new marketing partnership between Amish Acres and the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau will be launched on April 5th. The campaign will cover twenty nine weeks and nearly one million email-blasts will be sent through the Chicago Tribune to opt-in addresses in Chicago and its suburbs. The concise ads will feature Northern Indiana Amish Country and promote the CVB's award winning Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail and Amish Acres $99 Overnight Getaway Package.

"The Tribune's ability to target the demographics of the recipients who are most likely to be interested in our experiences make this an excellent advertising campaign," said Janis Logsdon, Director of Advertising, Sales and Leisure Marketing for the Bureau.

"Partnering with the CVB we are able to double the exposure to all there is to experience in Northern Indiana Amish Country," said Richard Pletcher, Founder and CEO of Amish Acres, "Chicago is our biggest market and close enough to be appealing to many who want a short getaway throughout this coming summer season." Amish Acres Historic Farm & Heritage Resort was created from the farm's last Amish owner 50 years ago this year. It is now listed in The National Register of Historic Places. The attraction features guided tours, horse drawn rides, domestic crafts, family style restaurant, wine tasting room, live musical theatre, shopping and lodging on the preserved and restored 80 acre farm.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ready, Sets, Go!

Here I am in mid-February looking out over seven inches of snow. It seems early to begin the fun but exhausting task of designing the sets for the Round Barn Theatre’s coming season. This will be the 17th season that I have designed the sets for a total of over 150 musicals, dramas and comedies. Some shows call for simple unit sets, as we call those single location sets like last year’s The Mousetrap to what we call traveling sets that come and go from one place to another.

After reading each script, discussing them in depth with Artistic Director Amber Burgess, and researching, seemingly forever, reviews of other productions, set designs, a kernel of an idea eventually begins to form. Does the show, in my mind, call for a realistic set, stylized set or an abstraction of the show’s message and focus? We have done them all. To make that decision I try to put each show into historical perspective with its surroundings and rely on my own experiences whenever possible.

This year’s shows often cover specific years from the past decades beginning with the 1930’s Depression when Annie wins over Daddy Warbucks. It features a cameo of FDR (my grandfather and father started Pletcher Furniture Village a month before FDR closed the banks) and mentions Indiana’s own Ford Frick, former commissioner of baseball, who grew up east of Nappanee on US 6 in Wawaka. Lend Me a Tenor is a farce about an opera fiasco in 1934 in Cleveland, Ohio of all places. Plain and Fancy is firmly imbedded in 1955, the year Nappanee beat Elkhart in basketball twice in the year Elkhart opened the nation’s largest high school gym. Happy Days is set in 1959, the year I graduated from high school (We’ve already covered my junior year with Grease and The Marvelous Wonderettes), Susie and I were married in 1964, the year Barry Manilow wrote his first score for a Broadway show. We followed the Rat Pack from the Ed Sullivan Show (remember Forever Plaid) to LasVegas. ABBA hit the pop music scene in 1974, the year President Nixon resigned during Friday night of the Arts & Crafts Festival, bringing it to a halt as the remaining crowd crowded around the black and white TV we had at the gazebo.

So, armed with a Rat Pack… script, synopsis, reviews, videos, photos, Pinterest, YouTube and my memories, I am about to draw my first lines in AutoCAD, making sure to stay within the sight lines of the theatre. The elementary goals are that the set elements must fit through the theatre’s doors, have a place to “live” backstage, be easy to handle and advance the plot. The finished design will be converted into working drawings and handed off to Elliott Correll and his crew to construct. We will use as many of our former show’s resources as possible. Long before the show is opened, the designs for the next production are underway. The pace never stops until the Holiday show is open and put to bed. So this is an inspiring time that lets me know this snow is not for long and patrons on opening night of The Rat Pack Lounge will be met at the door with welcoming spring flowers.