Plain and Fancy 27th anniversary season begins a year of festivities
Plain an Fancy began at Amish Acres in 1986 in the 100 seat Locke Township Meeting House.
Now with over 3,000 performances, Plain and Fancy at Amish Acres over the last two decades has become one of the longest running musicals of all time, with more performances than the original Broadway runs of Hello, Dolly!, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, and The Music Man, fewer than 200 performances less than Fiddler on the Roof itself.
It is the capstone of The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres. Originally built in 1917, the Aker round barn was dismantled and reconstructed at Amish Acres as a state of the art theatre in 1989. Since then it has seen over 100 Broadway musical productions.
Plain and Fancy began at Amish Acres as a cooperative effort with Jill Stover and the Enchanted Hills Playhouse. Amish Acres founder Richard Pletcher's interest in Plain and Fancy was inspired by the 1967 production of Plain and Fancy by The Nappanee Civic Theatre. The first season’s eight week production featured just four actors and a single piano on a tiny stage in a small movie theatre built for showing documentary films of the historic restoration.
Now a quarter of a century later, Plain and Fancy has become the seed that blossomed into a major regional theatre. It has produced ninety main stage musicals, numerous second stage readings, dramas, and a slate of theatre for young audience productions for schools plus week long summer day camps. A series of musical concerts is intertwined into each season’s eclectic mix. It is by far northern Indiana’s busiest stage, often with two shows running in repertory, a third show in rehearsal, a midweek concert, and school productions. The acting company and artistic staff are assembled from auditions across the country. The resident company lives in three houses on the Amish Acres campus.
David Millbern was a "Young Miller" in the Civic Theatre. It piqued his interest in acting and is now an accomplished movie actor in Hollywood. He returned to Nappanee to star in Joseph and the Amazing Techicolor Dreamcoat in 1996.
Over 500 actors have performed in Plain and Fancy over its 24 year span. A reunion will be hosted by Amish Acres on Saturday, July 16 in conjunction with the conclusion of Joseph Stein Young Actors Studio children’s camp. The students in the week long day camp will conclude their week by performing in the main stage matinee performance of Plain and Fancy. Returning actors and artistic staff members will be invited to join both casts on stage for an encore of the show’s signature songs. The campers will follow with an awards banquet and the returning alumni will be treated to a reception and dinner in Barn Loft Grill and Wine Tasting Room.
A number of alumni have gone on to star on Broadway and international tours since their time at Amish Acres. Perry Ojeda starred in the 1998 revival of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town, Jerry O’Boyle has starred as Edna Turnblad in the international tour of Hair Spray for the last three years and Kent Lewis recently performed in the Broadway in Chicago production of Billy Elliott and is in the current run in Toronto. Among others, Laura Freeman has become a fixture on the Chicago stage and cabaret circuit and is currently featured in "Sentimental Journey: The Music Of Doris Day” at the Wilmette Theatre and Maxim's in Chicago.
The season is dedicated to Joseph Stein, the author of Plain and Fancy and Fiddler on the Roof, for who The Round Barn Theatre’s stage is named. Mr. Stein died in October of 2010 at the age of 98. A memorial fund has been established to extend the influence of his Joseph Stein Young Actors Studio which presents theatre for young audience productions to school groups. The studio has been expanded into summer week long day acting camps, national touring children’s productions, and now free season tickets for kids.
The pace of Plain and Fancy’s growth quickened dramatically in 1991 with the completion of The Round Barn Theatre which increased the show’s seating capacity from 150 to 400. The theatre achieved national prominence with the United States Postal Service’s dedication of its commemorative Amish Quilt Stamps in 2001 and its recognition by the York Theatre in New York City during its presentation of the Oscar Hammerstein Lifetime Achievement Award to Stein in 2007. Plain and Fancy at Amish Acres was recently featured in the book “Building the Successful Theatre Company by Lisa Mulcahy.
Symbolic of The round barn itself, the anniversary production comes full circle by opening with The Old Rugged Cross written by Dennis McKeen, who played Papa Yoder in the first production of Plain and Fancy. Dennis has continued his acting career while becoming a producer and playwright. His show is filled with gospel favorites set in a churchyard park where people of many walks of life cross paths near the rugged cross in its center making heartwarming stories within the musical treat.
This milestone anniversary season is chocked full of Broadway favorites, off-Broadway hits, and new works. The evolution into a major regional theatre has seen the development of 20,000 feet of support space housing scenic shop, prop garage, rehearsal studio, sewing room and costume storage.
A subscription base numbering in the thousands is the backbone of the theatre’s success over the decades. “Without their trusting and encouraging support, this venue couldn’t exist,” said founder and producer Richard Pletcher, “We owe all of our vibrancy as a regional theatre to their support.”
Additional tie-ins during the year-long celebration include commemorative hex signs and dolls, a quilt garden using the Blue Bird featured in Plain and Fancy plus a matching $1,000 hand-made quilt to be given away at the conclusion of the season.
PLAIN & FANCY BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Plain and Fancy was written by Joseph Stein and opened on Broadway in 1955. It ran for 463 performances followed by 350 performances in London. A hit by any standard, it received a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical. Now over five decades later, The Round Barn Theatre® at Amish Acres® has become the national home for this delightful musical. Celebrating its 25th season at The Round Barn Theater, it has become one of the longest running musicals of all time with over 3,600 performances before audiences totaling 355,000. It's a heartwarming tale of a sophisticated New York couple that experiences a rare glimpse of life and love on an Amish farm. Plain and Fancy's music, laughter and joy touches people of all origins, backgrounds and faiths.
The Broadway production was produced by Richard Kolmar, who played the character Boston Blackie in the popular 1940s Boston Blackie radio series and was married to Dorothy Kilgallen of the popular television show, “What’s My line?”. Kolmar, who was from Pennsylvania, approached Joseph Stein about writing a Broadway musical about his home state that would rival Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! At the time Stein was writing for Sid Ceaser’s Show of Shows, along with Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Carl Reiner. He traveled through Pennsylvania looking for inspiration. Bypassing the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin, and Independence Hall, he found the idea that became Plain and Fancy among the Amish of Lancaster County, contrasting the plain people with a sophisticated New York couple driving a flashy red convertible. The clash made for a hilarious, yet insightful, look into the unique Amish community. He returned to New York with a 50¢ tourist book of ersatz "Dutch" phrases and put his idea on paper.
The show'scomposer Albert Hague was a German immigrant who had escaped Hitler's grasp and actually became the composer by mistake. His rejected audition sheet was accidently put on the call-back pile. When called back, the producers thought a German would be in tune with the Amish subject of Plain and Fancy. In fact, Hague had never even heard of the Amish. Nevertheless, both he and Stein went on to win Tony Awards for their later works - Fiddler on the Roof for Stein and Redhead for Hague
Plain and Fancy was featured in Life and Time magazines and brought tourists to the Amish countryside seeking the nostalgia of horse and buggies plying country roads, shocked wheat in the fields, and bountiful produce and hearty recipes. Among its songs, "Young and Foolish" became a popular song recorded by Dean Martin.
Plain and Fancy debuted at Amish Acres in 1986 where it was played with only four actors and a single piano on a tiny stage in a constructed replica of the old Locke Township Meeting House. It played for seven seasons on the tiny stage before moving to The Round Barn Theatre constructed in 1991. From that beginning, The Round Barn Theatre has grown into a major regional theatre producing more than 90 main stage musicals, numerous second stage readings, dramas, and a slate of theatre for young audience productions.
Fifty five years later tourist interest in Amish society has spread to communities in other states including Ohio and Indiana. Amish Acres, now in its 41st year, has become the most complete Amish experience including house and farm tours, horse and buggy rides, one of the nation’s longest running and highest ranking arts and crafts festival now celebrating its 49th year, two host hotels, and family style dining that features Threshers Dinner where the menu hasn’t changed for four decades.
Stein became The Round Barn Theatre's inspiration and mentor. The stage was named in honor of him and dedicated in 1997. “Yours is my favorite of all the regional theatres with which I have worked,” remarked Stein during one of his visit. Stein passed away in October 2011 at the age of 98. Amish Acre founder and CEO Richard Pletcher attended the memorial service for him in New York that included tributes from many of his collaborators including Charles Strouse of Bye Bye Birdie and Annie; Stephen Schwartz of Godspell, Pippen and Wicked; Stuart Ross of Forever Plaid; and Jerry Bock of Fiddler on the Roof. The Joseph Stein Memorial Fund has been established to provide free season tickets to kids at The Round Barn Theatre and to extend the influence of the Joseph Stein Young Actors Studio, also named in his honor, which presents theatre for young audience productions to school groups, presents national tour children's productions, and sponsors summer acting camps for kids.
Barbara Cook made her Broadway debut as Hilda Miller in Plain and Fancy, became a Broadway legend as Marian Puroo in The Music Man, both of which Morton DeCosta directed, and remains a luminary in the Big Apple.
Eight of Stein’s shows have been produced by The Round Barn Theatre, more than by any other theatre in the country, making it the national home of Plain and Fancy.
Richard Pletcher, founder of Amish Acres and the theatre’s producer, first saw Plain and Fancy in 1967, one year before Amish Acres was created from the Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns farm. When it was produced by the Nappanee Civic Theatre, David Millburn made his stage debut as one of the seven year old Miller boys. Millburn, now a Los Angeles movie actor, returned to star in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. His newest movie “Without Borders” premiere will be June 11, 2011 at the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival.
Perry Ojeda, starred as Gaby in Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town Broadway revival. Dirk Lumbard, in the original production of Dames at Sea, has starred as Harold Hill and Don Quixote on The Round Barn Theatre stage. Jerry O’Boyle recreated the role of Edna Turnblad in the international tour of Hairspray for over three years. Amy Farrington starred as Stacey Devers in the short lived Michael Richards television show and has appeared in The Mentalist and Grey’s Anatomy.
Bob Cline founded Bob Cline Casting in New York City. He serves as casting director for film, TV, commercials and has cast over 50 national tours and hundreds of regional theatre productions across the country. An active professional director, Mr. Cline also is an adjunct faculty member at Pace University, where he teaches the Senior Audition Technique classes. Laura Freeman, Jenny Sophia, and Cheryl Szucsits ply the Chicago theatre and cabaret scene. The careers of these Amish Acres alumni are merely illustrative of the talent and vitality that have passed through The Round Barn Theatre’s stage doors over the last quarter of a century.