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.

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.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Smoke on the Mountain Returns for Third Time

The good news is that its 1937 and the Sanders family have come to town with their patented gospel concert. None of that newfangled stuff. We’re going to hear nothing but foot stomping, back slapping favorites, songs like “The Church in the Wildwood,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” and let’s not forget the “Blood” medley: “Nothing But The Blood,” “There is Power in the Blood,” and “Are You Washed in the Blood.”

Ain’t it great to see such a saved family setting an example for all of us, singing about the gospel and living the gospel in their lives? It don’t get better than this.

Only it does -- because when “Smoke on the Mountain” comes to the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres, not for the first, nor the second, but for the third time, we not only get some of the best southern gospel and bluegrass hymns that were every written, but we get something better -- the reassurance that the good news is not for perfect people, but for flawed people perfectly loved by God. Amber Burgess has worked on the last two productions and is directing the current revival. She said, "In addition to the professional instrumental musicians, their voices blend perfectly for the range of songs this unique show requires."

“Smoke on the Mountain” would be great fun, even if it were only a concert showcasing the wonderful ethnic heritage of these songs. But one by one we see the members of this perfect family are broken, just like the rest of us, yet despite this they are still determined to share the good news in song along with their personal stories. This particular musical is a great piece of redemption, and an answer to those who think they must always look perfect in public.

This off-Broadway show, first work shopped in 1988, opened in 1990, and has since become a perennial favorite of the musical circuit. In the show Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the Smoky Mountains has invited the singing Sanders family to share their songs and their witness. After a five year hiatus the group has come together again, and Pastor Mervin anticipates a glorious evening. It turns out he’s absolutely correct, though not in the way he expected.

The cast includes Ryan A. Schisler as Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe, along with Paul Kerr, Amber Burgess, Perry Orfanella, Jeff Raab, Jocelyn Longquist, and Katherine Yacko as the Sanders Family. It is directed by Amber Burgess. The show, which features over twenty-five songs, has been previously performed at the Round Barn in 2000 and 2005.

According to Amber Burgess, the show's director, "Smoke on the Mountain is difficult for many theatres. The variety of musical talent required is daunting." She added, "Our cast hails from New York City, Louisville, Arkansas, and two from Florida."

“Smoke on the Mountain,” conceived by Alan Bailey and written by Connie Ray, will run from September 8 through October 18. For tickets and reservations call 1-800-800-4942.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A Gusty Version of Godspell

What is it about the daring of youth? Maybe you have to be young to have the guts to write a musical about the Bible. And when you’re young you’re also brave enough to pull it off. “Godspell,” playing this week at the Locke Township Meeting

House at Amish Acres, started out decades ago as a student project, and this youthful production, featuring students from local high schools or the newly graduated from area colleges, is a gusty version which we’ll only get to enjoy for a very few performances this week.

Audiences who loved Joelle Rassi who played the title role in last season’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” may not immediately recognize her as Morgan, dressed in black and singing the character’s signature song “Turn Back, O Man,” but they will certainly also love this performance.

Sara Bowling does a fine job with “Day by Day,” with its beautiful setting for an ancient prayer,. “Bless the Lord,” with its brassy retelling of Psalm 103, was ably sung by Aria Skaggs. Those only familiar with the film version of “Godspell” will not have heard “Learn Your Lessons Well,” which makes Kellie MacGowan’s singing all the more memorable.

I liked Ricky Iniesta’s verison of “You are the Light of the World,” along with his moments retelling the parables. Christain Elias is more than up to the demands of “We Beseech Thee.”

Michelle Miller, who share a haunting rendition of one of the most achingly beautiful songs, “By My Side,” performs a brash characterization of a certain memorable combover in one of the parables, something added by this particular cast.

But then each company reinvents “Godspell” on its own terms. In 1996 the Round Barn Theatre chose a Hoosier theme, complete with a barn and shocks of corn, which made for a very rustic production Director Jeremy Littlejohn has chosen to go with something of a “Breakfast Club” theme, working with the cast to create a company of high school students representing familiar types that walk the halls of our local schools. Goth, geek, athlete, cheerleader, studious, are among the types presented.

My favorite song may be “All Good Gifts,” and I was not disappointed by the rich rendition by Bradley M. Waelbroeck.

But the individuals selected to play the two main roles, T.J. Bresler as John the Baptist/Judas, and Music Director Travis Smith as Jesus, are the experienced performers required to hold the show together. Their duet, “All for the Best,” allows for their distinct vocal styles to be woven together. Though the cast as a whole is strong, these two stand out, as they ought to, Bresler in “Prepare Ye,” and “On the Willows,” and Smith in “Save the People,” “Alas For You,” and “Beautiful City.”

Smith, especially, brings to life what C.S. Lewis once wrote, that Jesus says the most comforting and challenging words in the Bible. These words, all too familiar, are spoken well, and as if said for the first time.

And that’s why this script can be impossible. What do you do with words taken directly from the gospels that people are too familiar with? But this company consistently reboots the Bible, and in the process refreshes the audience with the audacity of scripture, while challenging all of us to, as the cast does in the finale, take the life of Jesus into the world.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Meet Frank Ramirez, Preview and Review Writer for The Round Barn Theatre

Frank has been a pastor in the Church of the Brethren since 1979, and has served congregations in Los Angeles, Indiana, and Pennsylvania prior to accepting the call at Union Center in Nappanee, Indiana. He and his wife Jennie, who have been married for 38 years, share three adult children and four grandchildren.

On the denominational level Frank has served on both General Board and the Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors for Bethany Theological Seminary.

A writer, he frequently contributes to Messenger, Brethren Life and Thought, The Word in Season, The Upper Room, and many other publications. He is the author of several books, including The Love Feast, The Meanest Man in Patrick County, and Brethren Brush With Greatness.
Frank is a graduate of La Verne College and Bethany Theological Seminary. His hobbies include writing, exercise, and bee keeping. He and Jennie, both native Californians, enjoy travel, gardening, cooking, reading, and working with their two collies, who are both therapy dogs.

The Round Barn Theatre's producer and Amish Acres founder Richard Pletcher and Frank co-authored "The Wooden O: The Story of Amish Acres, The Round Barn Theatre and Plain and Fancy." They are presently collaborating on a new musical presently titled "The Persistence of Vision."

Frank writes thoughtful and educational previews and reviews of The Round Barn Theatre's musicals, dramas, and comedies, including the Second Stage Productions. His previews and reviews are becoming part of this blog.