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, 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 www.amishacres.com.

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 www.amishacres.com.

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.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Donation check presented to Nappanee Family Christian Development Center

A check for over $500 was presented to Mark Mikel, Executive Director, Family Christian Development Center by Reverend Frank Ramirez, Lead Pastor, Union Center Church of the Brethren, Amber Burgess, Artistic Director, The Round Barn Theatre, and Richard Pletcher, CEO, Amish Acres. The money was raised by donations from audience members who attended the two staged readings of “Plain Paper…,” the new musical written by Mr. Ramirez and conceived by Mr. Pletcher with music and lyrics by Steve Engle. In addition to Ms. Burgess, the readings were directed by Katherine Barnes. Ten members of the theatre’s resident acting company donated their time to prepare for and present the new musical. “Plain Paper, Amish News That’s Print to Fit” is based on a fictional newspaper named the Vision. It is distributed nationally with newsworthy stories from Amish and Mennonite districts across the country. The news is supplied by scribes who keep track of the weather, births, deaths, weddings, illnesses and visitors over the previous week. Everything is running relatively smoothly until Winthrop Llewis shows up from Hollywood to film a reality show. Winthrop has his eyes opened in ways he never thought possible.

The musical was presented last year my members of the Union Center Church of the Brethren. Ramirez and Engle, who have collaborated on additional musicals, continue to revise the script and music with the hope of staging a full production in 2018 as the theatre’s Second Stage Production.

The Round Barn Theatre is Indiana’s only resident repertory theatre. It is the National Home of “Plain and Fancy,” the 1955 Broadway musical about Amish life and love. “Plain and Fancy” has been running for 32 years and is the second longest currently running musical in America. “Sister Act” is currently running in repertory with it. Tickets are available at the box office (800) 800-4942 or at AmishAcres.com.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sister Act Review

If you go to see “Sister Act,” now playing at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres, because you want to see the movie “Sister Act,” upon which it is based, you’re going to be disappointed.

No, scratch that. You’re going to be delighted because you’ll get exactly what you came for, only a whole lot more.

The creators of this musical made the decision to keep the basic plot: a singer witnesses a murder and is sent to a convent for safekeeping until a mobster can be brought to trial. Both singer and sisters are changed for the better.

But those wonderful oldies sung in the movie have been replaced by original songs written by Alan Menken (yeah, that Alan Menken, the one who composed music for Disney’s “Little Mermaid,” “Alladin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and so much more), and a script by a couple of Emmy and Golden Globe winning geniuses who have written for, among other shows, “Cheers” and “Friends.”

What makes all these ingredients work for the Round Barn audience is Dee Selmore, who plays the aspiring singer Deloris Van Cartier. She is that rare performer who can both carry a show and challenge everyone in the cast to greater performances themselves. Selmore has some pretty big shoes to fill, considering the memorable actor who played her role in the movie, and she is up to the challenge.

The company doubles up on various roles, but the champion is Round Barn regular Don Hart. I lost track of the number of roles he played, as he carved out fresh characterizations with each quick costume change.

The writers have set the show in the 70s, an easy decade to lampoon because it had some of the worst fashions, worst music, and, thanks to the hilarious portrayal of the murderer’s henchmen, Martin Flowers, Travis Bird, and Justin Williams, the worst moves when it comes to dancing, dressing, and romancing. These three create characters who are legends in their own minds.

Ryan Schlisler is the brooding, yet convivial villain. He casts a long shadow over the plot, allowing Dee Selmore’s light to shine all the brigher.

Lauren Morgan transcends the versatility she’s brought to the several roles she’s played this season. As Sister Mary Martin-of-tours I simply did not recognize her, and wondered until intermission when I checked my program, what senior citizen they’d brought to play the wildly eccentric church choir pianist.

In fact the women’s ensemble playing the nuns is wonderfully strong, funny, and musical. My favorite number in the show, “Raise Your Voice,” is buoyed by the epiphany experienced by the sisters as Deloris teaches them to sing together. The lyrics, based on many songs I remember from my years in parochial school, are wickedly tongue twistery, if I can coin a phrase, leaving one amazed and amused.

Do not miss the musical “Sister Act” at the Round Barn Theatre. It is the highlight of the season so far.

Frank Ramirez, Lead Pastor, Union Center Church of the Brethren, is The Round Barn  Theatre's staff blogger.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Log Cabin Commemorative Quilt Completed


The commemorative Log Cabin Quilt that is given away each year by drawing on New Year’s Eve at Amish Acres has been completed by Elizabeth and Katie Borkholder and is on display in The Round Barn Theatre’s lobby. The quilters spent the spring, summer and into the fall stitching the king sized quilt, valued at $2,000, in the Gross Daddi House in Amish Acres historic area. Visitors to the farm have been registering to win the quilt all season long. The winner will be drawn from entries which will top 5,000.

Each year’s design is one of the farm’s most anticipated announcements. This is the eighth year that commemorative quilts have been made, all celebrating milestones at Amish Acres including anniversaries for The Round Barn Theatre and the Arts & Crafts Festival. Because there is no limit to the number of times one may enter, each visit to Amish Acres whether for a Theatre Performance, Threshers Dinner, Theme Dinner, House & Farm Tour, Arts & Crafts Festival or Special Event, increases one’s chances of winning. The quilt's pattern was designed by Amish Acres Founder Richard Pletcher and the top was created and sewn by Amber Burgess, The Round Barn Theatre's Artistic Director.

The Log Cabin pattern is in honor of the 1854 Smid Log Cabin which now serves as Amish Acres Soda Shop & Fudgery. The hand hewn log house was home to the only Mennonite congregation to migrate from the Netherlands to the United States. It was built by Reverend R.J. Smid (1814-1893) for his family and served as their church building until 1889 when the Salem Mennonite Church was built.

Sunshine Artist Top 200 Arts & Crafts Festivals


Amish Acres Arts & Crafts Festival has been named the 21st of 100 Best Classic and Contemporary Craft Shows in American by Sunshine Artist magazine. Each voting artist is given a ballot that allows them to list the top ten grossing shows they attended. The winners are chosen on the total sales of each event. The Nappanee festival has risen from number 56 last year and has never been out of the top 200 shows since the magazine began its rankings twenty five years ago. “Every show’s ranking is so weather dependent, particularly in August in Indiana” said the festivals originator Richard Pletcher, “The artists rank their shows based on their sales; our show has been ranked as high as number 3 in the country.” Pletcher continued, “The increase in ranking in a testament to Elkhart County and the area’s ongoing economic recovery and their enthusiasm and support for the vendors’ creativity and creations.”

Of the top 20 Classic and Contemporary shows only two others have been in existence longer than Amish Acres, which will be celebrating its 56th year in 2018. The Kutztown Folk Festival in Kutztown, Pennsylvania celebrated 69 years this summer and Allentown’s Art Festival in Buffalo New York has reached the 60 year mark. Only Amish Acres show has been run as a business enterprise and integrated into an attraction by a single family. Many of the ranked shows are organized by promoters who rent indoor venues, mostly around the holidays. Of the thirty three honored shows in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan only the Frankfort Illinois’ Chamber of Commerce’s Fall Festival that includes carnival rides ranks higher.

The 2018 festival, which will be celebrating its 56th anniversary, will be held August 2 – 5. Early vendor applications are now being accepted. Contact: Becky Cappert of Amish Acres, (574) 773-4188 ext. 213, or BeckyMaust@amishacres.com.