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, August 23, 2016

Jeremy Littlejohn returns as Tevya. It’s a Tradition!

I was singing songs from "Fiddler on the Roof" before I knew there was such a musical. That's because once upon a time the songs from Broadway Musicals were sung by Top Forty artists on the radio. I remember humming along with "Matchmaker," "If I Were A Rich Man," and "Do You Love Me?" as a kid without knowing that the music had a story. "Sunrise, Sunset" was sung at our wedding. Like a lot of people, once I discovered the musical I realized this is my story.

And what a story. The late, great Joseph Stein based "Fiddler's" book on the immortal stories of Sholem Aleichem. Tevye, the dairyman of the Russian village of Anachevka, lives a life of contradictions, maintaining a delicate and paradoxical balance between abject poverty, hardbound traditions, a changing world, and unquenchable joy. Along with his wife Golda and five daughters, and the many other residents of the village, they all manage to keep their balance like, well, like a fiddler on the roof!

Though Aleichem's stories are firmly rooted in the Jewish experience, their universality evokes the shock of recognition. Who hasn't thought to themselves "This is my life -- I know these people!" when watching the musical?

Certainly Charles Burr has. Burr, the artistic director of Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater Michigan, will direct this year's production of "Fiddler on the Roof" at Amish Acres. This is the fourth time it has been performed in the Round Barn Theatre, but Burr has been a more frequent visitor to Anachevka. Burr paused as he reflected on the fact he's been involved in so many productions of Fiddler, he's lost count.

"At least two" as director, Burr said, and "six, seven, eight, I lost count" as an actor. He always plays the Rabbi.

Asked about his approach to the show, he emphasized, "We have to honor what has gone on before. ...We're not going to want to set it in a space station orbiting around the moon," he added, laughing. His Fiddler will be set in the particular place and time but "there's no denying its inner universality."

"I think people are always happy to see it this familiar story," he said. "It's so real. There's the barn. There's the street. There's the home. It is a very good show. While it doesn't need grand, sweeping changes, there's always something new. There's a reason it's everyone's favorite show."

Fans of the Round Barn Theatre will remember Burr for having recently directed "The Diary of Anne Frank," and for having acted in "Harvey." He said that he was especially looking forward to working with Jeremy Littlejohn, who will reprise his role as Tevya, and Amber Burgess who will play Golda.

Burr wants to emphasize "the love between the two of them. Sometimes it's lost in all the argument. They bicker because they love each other."

His favorite number? It was hard to choose, but perhaps "If I Were A Rich Man." "There's no better song that illustrates a character," Burr said. "There's the comedic element, the religious element, his attitude towards his wife."

Then there's "Do I Love You ," which he called "a whole scene set to music. You know, These are some of the best songs ever. Great music. Great words."

"Fiddler on the Roof" was put together by a Mount Rushmore of Broadway legends: Jerome Robbins, Harold Prince, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein. It opened in 1964, won nine Tony Awards, and continues to be a favorite of local, regional, national, and international stages. It has had a Broadway revival every decade in the show’s fifty year history and is currently running through the end of 2016. It has been produced over 1,300 times in Japan alone and nearly 500 productions are mounted each year around the world.


For reservations or more information call the Box Office at Amish Acres, 800-800-4942, or go to www.amishacres.com. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Casey and Casanova dance Gershwins to life in “Crazy for You”

There are no essay questions when it comes to tap dancing. Like a math problem, there’s only one right answer. Either you got it or you don’t.

The cast of “Crazy For You,” currently playing at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee, has got it. They’ll have you believing that a passel of cowpokes from Deadrock, Nevada, can dance every bit as purty as four show girls from New York City because that’s just the way it is!

They’ll have you believing that love sorts things out so that whether or not you’ve been engaged to someone you don’t love who won’t leave you alone for five long years, all it takes is a moment for eyes to meet for everyone to get sorted out with the right person to make the perfect couple.

They’ll have you believing you had a great time humming along with familiar classics by George and Ira Gershwin, songs like “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Embraceable You,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and of course “I’ve Got Rhythm.”

“Crazy for You,” though first produced in 1992, is set in the 1930’s, and is loosely based on the Gershwin show “Girl Crazy.” Though it is a largely feel good show, it is a product of the Depression, a desperate time of foreclosures and business failures. This desperation undergirds the show, adding a strong backbone to the plot.

The musical tells the story of Bobby Child, who would rather dance regardless of what it pays rather than learn banking skills, including how to foreclose on people’s dreams, under the tutelage of his dominating mother.

Temporarily giving in, he arrives in Deadrock, Nevada, in order to foreclose on an old theater when he realizes he can save the theater if only some Broadway dance girls join forces with some rugged cowboys to put on a show. In order to snare the girl of his dreams, Polly Baker, who happens to hate him because of that foreclosure thing, Bobby adopts the persona of scowling director Bela Zanger. Zanger himself shows up about the same time everyone in the show realizes there’s no audience to be had when you live in the middle of nowhere. Will the show go on? Comedy ensues!

Matt Casey, as Bobby Child, the dancer with the dream, sings and dances so effortlessly that you almost believe anyone could do the same. He and Kaitlyn Casanova, the cowgirl with a heart of gold who with her father stands to lose the town’s only theater to creditors, make a winsome couple. Casanova has demonstrated her astounding range as a singer throughout this season at the Round Barn.

James Edward Dauphin, who plays the European director Zangler, performs a real star turn as the artiste’s artiste who knows a good thing when he finds it. His scene with Casey, who as Childs has dressed as Zangler to win his girls’ heart, is a classic as the two mirror each other in a dazed stupor.

Kayla Ricker is memorable as the tigress who finds happiness by bringing her prey to heel. Rory Dunn plays the cantankerous saloon keeper Lank, her hapless and ultimately happy prey.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

All Shook Up

I had a theater professor in college who used to say that in the comedies of Shakespeare love is a sickness that can only be cured by marriage. I’m glad to say that in “All Shook Up,” currently playing at Amish Acres, no one's sick anymore! Everyone checked out of Heartbreak Hotel without any lasting damage, put on their Blue Suede Shoes because they Can’t Help Falling In Love. After all, It’s Now Or Never when it comes to that Burning Love.
“All Shook Up” is based (loosely) on Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night” but more importantly Joe Dipietro’s script is “Inspired by and featuring the songs of Elvis Presely.” Songs like “Jailhouse Rock,” “C’Mon Everybody,” “Hound Dog,” “It’s Now or Never,” Love Me Tender,” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” among many, many others, are inspired toe tapping and hand clapping among audience members the night I attended the show.
Unlike many other so-called Jukebox Musicals, this one has a real plot! The arrival of a mysterious stranger (ably played by Carl Glenn) turns a place filled with variously grieving, scheming, and judgmental characters topsy-turvy. The hilarious gender confusion that unintentionally ensues when lonely hearts auto mechanic Natalie Haller (wonderfully portrayed by Abby Murray Vachon) dresses as a man to get closer to the man she loves while drawing the amorous attention of a strong-willed woman (Kayla Ricker) is at the heart of Twelfth Night and it works well in 1950’s America.
We see that era through rose-colored glasses, anyway. The Age of Elvis wasn’t nearly that cool. But “All Shook Up" re-imagines the 50’s as non-racist and non-sexist, and that’s what the literature of Utopia does best -- reimagine an ideal past because we believe in a better future. That’s especially important now when we seem to be living in a dystopia of hatred and violence.
The music of “All Shook Up” is a largely positive mix that helps us believe things will get better, that there may come a time when we won’t care about race, or age, or anything else that might separate us anymore. And while we’re at it, we get to listen to a cast filled with talented singers (kudos to Music Director Julie Lyn Barber) dancing (hooray for director/choreographer Mike Fielder) across a near-perfect set designed by Richard Pletcher.
Jordon Tudor is imperious as the Mayor and is as close as we get to Twelfth Night's Malvolio, but unlike in Shakespeare’s play she does not end as the odd one out in this comedy where it's perfectly normal to fall head over heels in love at a moment’s notice. But after, wasn’t it Shakespeare who wrote “Whoever loved, that loved not at first sight?” Oh wait, that was Shakespeare was quoting Christopher Marlowe.
Jazze Lewis as Sylvia (now there’s a Shakespearean name) and Alec Brown as Dennis were especially delightful playing characters who reopen their lives to love like a phoenix rising from the ashes of grief.
Truth be told if you know anything about the Bard you recognize the confused gender wooing scene from “As You Like It,” and the confused set of couples from “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” But no one is giving you points for catching this or that reference. What does pay off is that thanks to a strong cast from top to bottom (everyone sings, everyone dances, everyone acts) this show is fun from beginning to end.

Can I close by saying something heretical? While Elvis made all these songs famous, most of them are not really Elvis songs. He only wrote a few of them. What I’m really saying is, what we’re loving here is not just one singer, but an age. Come to think of it, the Bard’s contemporary Ben Jonson once wrote jealously that Shakespeare was not of an age but for all time. So is Elvis. And I suspect this show has lasting power as well.

Monday, November 09, 2015

A Practically Perfect Musical!

When audiences watch Amber Burgess glide practically perfectly from the rafters to the stage in the role of Mary Poppins they won’t need to know she spent months in training for the event. Young and old alike need only watch in delight as this year’s holiday musical comes to life at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres.

Burgess demonstrated this bit of theater magic recently at the conclusion of the preview of the 2016 season. It is more than just a matter of wearing a harness beneath her costume. She underwent intense physical training in Chicago so that she would be strong enough to maintain her balance as she flies about the theater.

Jeremy Littlejohn, Artistic Director of the Round Barn and director of “Mary Poppins,” admitted that audiences will have expectations when they come to see the show. “Anytime you have something that was a movie it’s tricky, because a lot of time a film will film at a lot of locations, many that appear only once. That by itself makes this a massive show.”

That means that the members of the large cast, most of whom are playing more than one part, have one more role to play -- they’ll be setting the stage during all the scene changes.” All of that will happen under the guidance of Technical Director Tom Slavey.

How did the show come to be? It’s common enough for stories, books, and plays to be adapted into musicals, but how do you make a musical out of a musical? You start with the stories of P.I. Travers about her famed character Mary Poppins, layer it with the many songs of from the beloved 1964 Disney film featuring the music of the famed Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, add the Book by Downtown Abbey writer Julian Fellowes, mix new songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and stir vigorously with the genius of Cameron Mackintosh.

Laughing, Littlejohn recalled “The feud between Travers and Disney is well known. She disliked the film version so much that she had it put in her last will and testament that no one from the film would be allowed to work on the stage adaptation.”
The new songs are blended with favorites from the Disney film, including “Just a Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Step in Time, “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

Littlejohn admitted, “I have a very strong connection with this show. I grew up with the film. Also, my best friend Joe Ford is playing Bert. Amber and I have a long personal and professional history together. So it’s been a lot of fun getting to work with two of my closest friends on stage.”

“Mary Poppins” will run from November 13 to December 31. In addition to Amber Burgess as the title character and Joe Ford as Bert, the cast includes Katherine Anderson, Tim Becze, T. J. Besler, Sara Drinkwine, Joyana Loraine Feller, Carl Glenn, Josh Hatfield, MoMo Lamping, Derik Lawson, Kyle O’Brien, Sarah Philabaum, Joelle Rassi, Ryan A. Schisler, Elsa Scott, Hanna Shetler, Justin Williams, and the four footed Izzy (“Woof”) Wysong,

Sarah Philabaum is the choreographer, Travis Smith is Music Director, Timothy James is Stage Manager, Amber Burgess is the Costume Designer, and Executive Producer Richard Pletcher is also the set designer.

"Mary Poppins," opens in a seven week run November 13 at the Round Barn Theater at Amish Acres, and runs through December 31. For reservations and information call 800-800-4942. 

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Power and the Promise of The Diary of Anne Frank

Maple Creek Middle School of Fort Wayne, Indiana traveled one hour across the Grand Army of the Republic Highway (US 6) in five chartered buses to see The Round Barn Theatre’s Young Audience Production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Three other schools including Prairie Heights Middle School, Edgewood Middle School and Lakeview Middle School also attended this performance making attendance for the two performances close to 800 people.

It has been 70 years since Anne Frank and her sister were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died in 1945 just before the camp was liberated. Time is the enemy of memory. Denials that Anne Frank ever existed have followed this brave and insightful teen’s diary since its publication in 1947. The horrors of the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews during its reign of terror leading up to and during World War II, could not silence this young girl’s resolve, and her words live on for all to ponder.

When history fades we are more likely to forget and possibly repeat the mistakes of the past. We commend the teachers and administrators who arranged for this group of teenagers to witness first hand this live production because there is nothing more powerful than live theatre to impress our minds with messages large and small, but vital to our shared goal of living in peace and  harmony with tolerance for everyone in this ever shrinking world. Frightening events are being carried out today that call for more and more children to be exposed to Anne Frank’s bravery.

Hats go off to the acting company of The Round Barn Theatre for its dedication to this story and its presentation. They are busy with the current production of Harvey, Monday night’s 2016 season preview party, and exhausting rehearsals of Mary Poppins.This beautiful sunny and warm day represents the promise of this next generation to lead us further toward enlightenment and wisdom.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What's True? And What Do I Believe?

We're sneaking up on the thirtieth anniversary of the syndication of the famed "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strips, drawn and written by Bill Watterson, and in a way, it's worth thinking about that famed boy and his tiger when considering another play, "Harvey," about an affable man and his invisible six-foot-three inch friend who would look a lot like a rabbit if we could see him.

Artist Bill Watterson was notorious for refusing to give interviews or licensing his creations for things like stuffed animals. In part it was to leave open the question of just how "real" Hobbes the tiger was. To others Calvin could be seen as an ordinary boy carrying around a stuffed tiger, but we the readers, along with Calvin, saw him as a rather clever talking tiger who lived an independent existence from little boy.

In an insane era, when shattering events cause talking heads of all stripes to circle the wagons and defend their viewpoint with a destructive fierceness we all have to ask ourselves, "What's true? And what do I want to believe?"

We're not the only ones to live in a world turned upside down. Playwright Mary Chase wrote "Harvey" during World War II, and it opened in 1944. Set in the library of the Dowd family mansion, and in sanitarium with the deceptive title "Chumley's Rest," it centers around the affable Elwood P Dowd, a mild eccentric who insists that he is accompanied by Harvey, an invisible pooka, an Irish spirit, who takes the form of a six foot, three and a half inch rabbit who walks on two legs.

His social climbing sister Veta, concerned for the family's reputation, realizes she must make some hard choices, and that perhaps Elwood needs to be committed and subjected to various "treatments" that will "cure" him.

But, as director Jeremy Littlejohn points out, "People are drawn to Elwood., They unburden themselves to him. His whole outlook on life is wonderful." In some ways, Littlejohn said, Elwood is Christ-like. Littlejohn was first attracted to the show by James Stewart's performance in the movie adaptation. "It's just a charming play, very funny, very stylistic. 
Everything you need is on the page. All I really need to do is get out of its way."“Harvey” is a very funny play, which has the effect of insuring its message works its way into our hearts. Humor is perspective, after all, nothing more or less.Which reality do you want to live in? The reality of a man who’s friends with a rabbit named Harvey? A boy who talks to his tiger? Or the reality of a gun-toting racist who imagines he’ll start a race war in America if he shoots up a church in Charleston?

The cast includes Travis Smith as Elwood P. Dowd, Rita Kurtz as Veta Louise Simmons, Elsa Scott as Myrtle Mae Simmons, Pam Gunterman as Miss Johnson and Betty Chumley, MoMo Lamping as Mrs Ethel Chauvenet, Katherine Yacko as Ruth Kelly, R.N., Douglas Campbell as Duane Wilson, Ryan A. Schisler as Lyman Sanderson, M.D., Charles Burr as William R. Chumley, M.D., T.J. Besler as Judge Omar Gaffney, and Travis Bird as E.J. Lofgren.

"Harvey," opens in a limited three week run October 21 at the Round Barn Theater at Amish Acres, and runs through November 8. For reservations and information call 800-800-4942. 

Saturday, October 03, 2015

A Good Old Fashioned Revival

A dear friend of mine, the late Willis Hershberger, once told me how gospel groups would play and sing all around the Elkhart Plaza, and how shoppers would gravitate to them and just stand to listen. Willis also said people no longer appreciated live music, and if folks played real instruments and sang good old fashioned gospel, shoppers would just walk right on by as if the radio was playing.
With all the benefits that have come with the digital revolution, there’s still nothing like live music, and the current production of “Smoke on the Mountain” at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres features some of the best live down-home gospel you will ever hear, including one talented individual, Katherine Yacko, who manages to play and sing just enough out of sync to convince us she’s no good at it. Yacko plays June, the untalented Sanders sister who is relegated to hilariously incorrect sign language and impossibly muted percussion during the concert given by the Sanders Family at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in North Carolina on Saturday evening in 1938.
And because this is live it’s easy to miss one of the show’s funniest moments, when June corrects the pastor, who in his excitement has taken up the tambourine, and demonstrates the proper way to shake it is silently.
If “Smoke on the Mountain” consisted of nothing more than the instrumental and singing talents of Director Amber Burgess, who plays Vera the matriarch of the family, Paul Kerr who plays the patriarch Burl, Jeff Raab and Jocelyn Longquist who play the twins Dennis and Denise, Perry Orfanella, who plays Burl’s brother Stanley and is the prodigal come home, then the evening would be worth it. They bring to life one gospel favorite after another, a veritable greatest hits from every battered hymnal resting on the living room piano, and they do it with seeming effortless ease, the kind that comes from talent and hard work..
But collectively the family, anxious for perfection in this first performance after a five-year hiatus (we are told “mother” just died a few months before), testifies to redemption in the way they cope with their broken lives rather than in the Bible verses they rattle off with ease. Burl’s brush with temptation as he attempts to keep his service station open during the Depression, Dennis’ desire to be a preacher which does not fully blossom until he loses his mother’s script and suddenly preaches from the heart, Denise’s desire to fly far away, June’s struggle with inadequacies drummed into her by her family, Vera’s desire to control (articulated most clearly in her uproarious children’s story), and Stanley’s stint in jail, tell our story as well as theirs, and give us hope because evidently God’s not through with us yet.
Ryan A. Schisler plays the Reverend Mervin Oglethorpe, not only faces down his own “Get thee behind me, Satan” moment in his attraction to one of the sisters, but guides his congregation despite himself, absorbing the anger of the church ladies while struggling with his need to be needed.
Perry Orfanella’s Stanley says it best as first in song, and then in story, he testifies just why an expletive came so easily to his lips to end the first act, and why it’s a miracle he’s there at all. Talking about the absence of love in a fellow convict’s life, he shares how after his own release from jail his brother told him simply, “Come home.” “Smoke on the Mountain,” with its glorious live music and perceptive acting, is an invitation to all of us, broken as we are, to accept the invitation from One who loves us despite who we pretend to be, and simply come home.
Smoke on the Mountain, Written by Connie Ray, Conceived by Alan Bailer. Musical Arrangement by Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick.