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.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Review of "The Miracle Worker"

In recent weeks we have seen the photographs of children in wartorn regions, stunned, covered in blood, staring back at us uncomprehendingly, not even looking to us for answers anymore. If you’ve got any sand in you, you have to realize there are no throwaway children. There are no throwaway human beings.

For that reason along with many others “The Miracle Worker,” the story of Helen Keller, is as timely as ever. Her teacher, Annie Sullivan was warehoused as a child among throwaway people, and from the searing experience Sullivan was motivated to lead the blind and deaf Keller away from the danger of becoming yet another throwaway human.

Abby Murray-Vachon plays the miracle worker of this story, Annie Sullivan, who has been brought in by the Kellers to teach their daughter Helen. Murray-Vachon has distinguished herself in the many and varied roles she has portrayed during this memorable season at the Round Barn Theater. Partway through “The Miracle Worker” she delivers words that tear into the soul like few speeches in drama. The Kellers admit they have considered sending their daughter to a facility but did not like what they saw on visiting day.

With passion but also purpose we hear Annie Sullivan describe more than we would ever want to believe about the facilities where she was housed, telling what happens to the sick and dying, the babies brought there to die, and the rats which are the only toys Annie and her dying brother had for play during their bitter years when they were warehoused. This scene ought to leave you breathless.
You can’t have a great Annie Sullivan without a peerless Helen Keller. We have one in Hannah Shetler. Shetler invites us into a world of darkness and silence. Thanks to her dedication to her craft Shetler leaves us stunned and in tears when the walls are finally torn down and words spill into her world. Shetler’s performance can be summed up in three words: focus, will, and strength. Both Murray-Vachon and Shetler come through their clash of the titans richly displaying the love that is at the core of this story.

But this show is not a stern polemic. “The Miracle Worker” is filled with heart and humor. The sheer physicality of the two central roles leaves the audience exhausted and exhilarated. Here we see most clearly how Director Amber Burgess is able to draw upon her own experiences in playing Annie, guiding the actors through the no-holds-barred sequences with power and discipline.

The play is set in 19th century Alabama after the era of Reconstruction when African-American hopes were squelched. The servant family, played by Myesha-Tiara in the role of Viney, along with her children Martha and Percy, played by Brooklyn Redd and Charles Redd, play their parts with historical and cultural authenticity and integrity. Bravo.

Amelia Lowry, who plays a blind student and is the understudy for Helen, does a nice star turn in her brief but important role. The Keller family is portrayed by Tucker Curtis and Heidi Ferris in the roles of Helen’s parents, Revel Ferris-Curtis, who plays both Baby Helen and her sibling Mildred)Quinn Rattan as the older son James, and Rita Kurtz as Aunt Ev. Together they create a classic dysfunctional yet loving family torn to the breaking point by Helen.


I remember the original television broadcast of “The Miracle Worker” in 1962 with great fondness. Over the years I’ve had the chance to see “The Miracle Worker” performed on several stages. Direction, stage design, lighting, and sound (the latter essential for the flashback scenes that we hear and do not see), and of course acting -- this is the best production of “The Miracle Worker” I can remember. You must go see this.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Odyssey of the Steamer

Ruth’s main steamer in the restaurant’s kitchen broke down on Monday. She needs it for the coming weekend. After much research we ordered a replacement generator for it. The part came in the next day. It was the wrong part. We were told by multiple sources that replacement part for our steamer is no longer made. We found a similar used steamer in Indianapolis. We were told it was in good working order. We drove to Indy and picked it up. Our long time “kitchen mechanic” opened it up to find that it was dismantled and most of the parts were laying on the floor of the machine.

We then, as we should have in the beginning, went to Cleveland Range directly. Our original steamer is still made. Cleveland sent us to a parts company in Kalamazoo which has a branch in Mishawaka. The Mishawaka company cross referenced our serial number and the discontinued part number and found the new replacement part number. Their supplier is in Fort Wayne, Indiana, an hour away. They said we had to replace the blower element as well, but Fort Wayne did not have the second part. We went back to our original supplier who has both the newly numbered part and the blower part. We drove to Aurora, Illinois, returned the wrong part and picked up the correct part. It arrived back in Nappanee on Thursday morning to be installed. We are up and running. We then received a call from the company in Aurora saying that the blower part had been forgotten and was lying on their dock. Obviously we didn’t need the second part since by then we were up and running. We are waiting on the Indianapolis company to pick up the trashed steamer. Ruth is happy, but we are taking no chances.

Tonight, Don Hart, who plays the Rabbi in The Round Barn Theatre’s current production of “Fiddler on the Roof” is coming before show time to bless the steamer. If it worked for him to bless Motel’s new sewing machine, a Singer, so we are confident our “new” steamer will make it through the weekend with hot cooked food.

Review of “Fiddler on the Roof”

In the opening number of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevya the Dairyman admits that nobody’s really sure how the traditions practiced by the Jews of Anatevka got started. But it doesn’t matter. The traditions are what help the community keep their balance, like that fiddler. The one on the roof.

Now, however, anyone who reads the newsheet handed out at the Round Barn’s production of “Fiddler” will know exactly how playwright Joseph Stein, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, and composer Jerry Bock worked together to create the original Hal Prince production!

Ticket holders to this fourth production of “Fiddler on the Roof” will also learn about the inspiration artist Marc Chagall derived from the original Tevya stories penned by Sholem Aleichem, the history of the various Tevya’s who’ve acted on the Round Barn stage, and the amazing story of how Jewish refugees from the Ukrainian conflict are rebuilding their lives in a real life Anatevka, deliberately named the village in the famed musical.

All that before the opening curtain rises and Joseph Stein’s most famous musical fabulously comes to life once more on the Joseph Stein stage at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres.

Jeremy Littlejohn reprises the part of Tevya he first played in 2006. It is a role for which he is well suited, whether its leading the village in their celebration of “Tradition!” or dancing and singing “To Life,” or pondering “If I Were A Rich Man.” Littlejohn brings what in Hebrew is called “khavod,” sometimes translated as “weight,” signifying not how much one weighs, but how weighty a presence one brings to the scene. He does a great job with a central facet of the character, his willingness to express the full range of emotions to God: wonder, joy, sadness, regret, and even anger and disappointment. There is no false piety in Littlejohn’s portrayal -- just a determination to live out a personal relationship that takes God seriously enough to laugh with and cry with the Creator.

In Hebrew (last time) the word for love does not describe feelings so much as actions. That’s the truth behind the love in the portrayal of Tevya’s wife Golde by Amber Burgess. Whether its in her leadership in the Sabbath service, her response to Tevya’s dream, or simply her response in the central number “Do You Love Me?”, Burgess displays the calm and steady personality that can weather three unconventional marriages chosen by her daughters or the orders to pack up and move an entire household with only three days notice.

Not only that, but her costume design for Fiddler is perfect, bringing to life well worn but well cared for and clean clothes for the villagers.

Everyone in the village of Anatevka is there, just as we want them to be. The three oldest daughters (played by Kristin Brintnall, Abby Murray Vachon, and Katlyn Casanova) each push the envelope further and further, leaving us wondering in the end if faith and tradition will be flexible to handle more and more radical change. Their voices are to die for.

Travis Smith lives the tension between heartfelt love and societies boundaries (dare one say walls), in his portrayal of the Russian Fyedka. He also demonstrates his singular skills as Music Director.

Sarah Philabaum puts an exclamation point to her star turn as Fruma-Sarah, returned from the dead to back up Tevya’s decision to give in to his eldest daughter.

The youngest members of the cast, Amelia Lowery, Hannah Shetler, Martin Flowers, and Drew Flickinger demonstrate the depth of experience they’ve gathered in their theatrical careers, carving out clear characters instead of caricatures.

Director Charles Burr, who has acted or directed more productions of Fiddler than he can remember, recognizes how the stories of a particular people in a specific historical setting is also universal because of our shared humanity, and presents a version that is both comforting in its familiarity but also vibrant and alive.

Sarah McGowran’s choreography is especially strong in “Tradition,” “To Life,” and the extended wedding scene. Executive Producer Richard Pletcher has designed a set that is like one of those wonderful sliding puzzles, in which the pieces are rearranged in several patterns, revealing Anatevka as a character of its own.


The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee presents “Fiddler on the Roof,” Book by Joseph Stein, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Music by Jerry Bock, produced by special Arrangement with Music Theatre International, through October 16th. For reservations and information call 800-800-4942.

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.