Tue 29 May, 2012
Tags: 3 STARS, Amish Acres, Plain and Fancy, The Round Barn Theatre
By J. Scott Hill
I recently saw a classic musical that may be unfamiliar to many of even the most regular theatregoers — Plain and Fancy. Plain and Fancy is a Tony-nominated musical set among the Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. With a libretto by Joseph Stein (of Fiddler on the Roof fame) and Will Glickman, lyrics by Arnold Horwitt, and music by Albert Hague (who is also the composer on How the Grinch Stole Christmas!), Plain and Fancy has an excellent pedigree.
Joseph Stein and Will Glickman’s script itself is terrific, if dated in spots (luckily for Plain and Fancy, its datedness dates to the Golden Age of American musical theatre). Dan King and Ruth Winters, A New York city slicker and his gal Friday, travel to Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, to sell an inherited farm to Jacob Yoder, an Amish patriarch who owns the adjoining property. Stein treats the Amish people and their way of life with a gentle respect; a character may be dimwitted and Amish, but never dimwitted because they are Amish. Some fairly iconic elements of musical theatre and Amish life are commingled. A triangle of Amish romantic entanglements is vexed (and possibly hexed). A barn is raised. The right guys end up with the right dolls and everybody sings a reprise of one of the big earlier numbers.
The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana, has been the national home of Plain and Fancy since 1986. Nappanee has a sizeable Amish population in its vicinity; Amish Acres Historic Farm and Heritage Resort, home to The Round Barn Theatre, also includes the restored Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns Amish farmstead — the only Amish farm to be listed in The National Register of Historic Places. The four-hundred-seat theatre is housed in a 1911 Amish round barn that was relocated to Amish Acres. For the last sixteen years, The Round Barn Theatre has been a resident repertory theatre — this year producing six other shows in six-week runs each while concurrently running Plain and Fancy several shows a week. Even in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, there is no more apt venue in which to experience Plain and Fancy.
Executive Producer Richard Pletcher should be very happy with the overall aesthetic of this show. The production values are mostly on a par with recent shows at Marriott Lincolnshire and Theatre at the Center. The music does seem, unfortunately, to be pre-recorded, though that fact would only be apparent to audiophiles. It is clear that Musical Director Travis Smith has recorded accompaniment specifically for this cast, tailored to the vocalists of this production. The music feels as if it might be live backstage — nothing like the overproduced soundtrack of a theme park show or karaoke.
The choral harmonies are tight on songs like “Plenty of Pennsylvania” and “Plain We Live.” The entire cast proves to have pretty serious vocal chops. Katherine Kuehner’s soprano stands out as the strongest vocal performance of the show. As bride-to-be Katie Yoder, Kuehner’s ability to nail and maintain some pretty impressive high notes is well exploited on “Follow Your Heart” and “Young and Foolish.”
This is an ensemble of talented actors. The interplay between Benjamin Lee Jackson and Emily Baer, as city folk Dan and Ruth, is delightful screwball comedy. Timothy Leonard as Isaac Miller and Rory Dunn as Papa Yoder take radically different approaches to portraying Amish patriarchs, yet both take care to exhibit depth of thought and strength of character. The sunshine of this show comes from Vanessa Moyen as Hilda Miller; no matter what Hilda is thinking or doing, Vanessa Moyen imbues her with an upbeat energy that enlivens the entire production.
On the night I saw Plain and Fancy, I had the happy accident of seeing Artistic Director Jeremy Littlejohn substitute for the usual actor in the role of Peter Reber. A powerful singer and a subtle, thoughtful actor, Littlejohn walked into the part seamlessly.
With a talented cast, high production values, and a forgotten gem of a script, The Round Barn Theatre has a real charmer on its hands with their twenty-sixth season of Plain and Fancy. Even without all of the other activities at Amish Acres Historic Farm and Heritage Resort, Plain and Fancy is well worth the drive out to Amish country.
(“Plain and Fancy” runs through October 20 at The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres, 1600 W. Market St., Nappanee, IN. 800-800-4942 or 574-773-4188.)
NOTE: Nappanee, Indiana, is located in the Eastern time-zone, so plan your visit accordingly.
Plain and Fancy production photos by Jeff Stillson. - Some publicity photos may reflect earlier productions.
The Round Barn Theatre has created a useful Flickr gallery showing the approximate view of the stage from different sections of the house: Seating Visual @ The Round Barn Theatre – a set on Flickr
For more on Amish Acres Historic Farm and Heritage Resort, go to: