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.

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.