The History of Plain and Fancy at Amish Acres
Plain and Fancy began its life at Amish Acres in the 120 seat Locke Township Meeting House in 1986. The concept began as a cooperative effort with Jill Stover and the Enchanted Hills Playhouse.Amish Acres founder and CEO, Richard Pletcher first became acquainted with this unique chestnut of the musical theatre in 1967 while attending a performance of the production by Nappanee Civic Theatre. David Millbern portrayed a "Miller" child in the show, and went on to be an accomplished film actor in Los Angeles.He returned to Nappanee in 1996 to star in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat during our inaugural Repertory Season. Plain and Fancy was written by Joseph Stein and opened on Broadway in 1954, where 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, and was featured in Life and Time magazines bringing tourists to the Amish countryside seeking the nostalgia of horse and buggies on country roads, wheat fields, bountiful produce and hearty recipes. Among its songs, Young and Foolish became a popular song recorded by Dean Martin. 60 years later, tourist interest in Amish society has spread to communities in other states including Ohio and Indiana. Amish Acres has become the most complete Amish experience including house and farm tours, horse and buggy ride and family style dining, making it the perfect location for this heartwarming tale of a sophisticated New York couple that experiences a rare glimpse of life and love on an Amish farm.
The first "season" of Plain and Fancy at Amish Acres enjoyed an eight week run, featuring just four actors and a single piano in the tiny venue which was originally designed for showing documentary films as part of Amish Acres Total Experience. After seven seasons bringing enjoyment to patrons in an intimate environment, the pace of Plain and Fancy's growth quickened drastically in 1992 with the completion of The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres Historic Farmstead. Originally built in 1917, the Frank Aker round barn was dismantled and reconstructed at Amish Acres as a state of the art theatre. In addition to increasing the seating capacity from 120 to 400, having a fully functioning theater on the property also allowed Plain and Fancy's production values to grow by adding a full "porch facade" to indicate the Yoder Farm, as well as an actual "amish buggy" and "car".
Now, over a quarter of a century later, Plain and Fancy has amassed over 3,000 performances witnessed by over 300,000 patrons; Plain and Fancy has enjoyed more performances than the original Broadway run of Hello, Dolly!, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, The Music Man, and fewer than 200 performances less than Fiddler on the Roof, making it one of the longest running musicals anywhere. Plain and Fancy and The Round Barn Theatre achieved national prominence during its 15th season in 2001 by hosting the United States Postal Service's dedication of its commemorative Amish Quilt Stamps. The show received further recognition from the York Theatre in New York during its presentation of the Oscar Hammerstein Lifetime Achievement Award to author, Joseph Stein in 2007. Plain and Fancy and The Round Barn Theatre were also featured the book Building the Successful Theatre Company by Lisa Mulcahy.
Plain and Fancy became the "capstone" to The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres, when, after four seasons in its new home, the seed of "repertory theatre" had been planted and blossomed into turning The Round Barn Theatre into a major Regional Theatre. Since the inaugural repertory season in 1996, The Round Barn Theatre has produced nearly 150 Broadway Musicals, all running in "rep" around Plain and Fancy. The evolution of the theatre has also seen the development of 20,000 feet of Costume Storage Space, Cast Housing, Prop & Scene Shop and Rehearsal space. 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.”
Over 600 actors have performed in Plain and Fancy during its run. A number of these 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 starred as Edna Turnblad in the Hairspray tour for all six years of its run, Kent Lewis performed in the Broadway in Chicago & Toronto run of Billy Elliott, Bob Cline founded Bob Cline Casting in New York City where he casts for film, television and over 50 national tours, Amy Farrington starred in the short lived Michael Richards sitcom and has since appeared in "The Mentalist" and "Grey’s Anatomy," and Laura Freeman and Cheryl Szucsits play the Chicago theatre and cabaret circuit constantly. The careers of these Amish Acres alumni are merely illustrative of the talent and vitality that have passed through The Round Barn Theatre’s doors over the last quarter of a century. A reunion was hosted by Amish Acres in 2011 during the 25th Anniversary season. Returning actors and artistic staff members were invited to join both casts on stage for an encore of the show’s signature songs. The returning alumni were also treated to a reception and dinner in the Barn Loft Grill and Wine Tasting Room.
The stage was dedicated to Joseph Stein, author of Plain and Fancy, and Fiddler on the Roof, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 98. Richard Kollmar, 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.
During several visits to Nappanee, Mr Pletcher & Mr. Stein developed a personal and professional relationship that inspired Stein to mentor The Round Barn Theatre. “Yours is my favorite of all the regional theatres with which I have worked,” remarked Stein during one of his visits. When Mr. Stein passed away, Mr. Pletcher attended his Memorial Service in New York which included tributes from many of his collaborators, including Charles Strouse of Bye Bye Birdie and Annie; Stephen Schwartz of Godspell, Pippin and Wicked; Stuart Ross of Forever Plaid; and Jerry Bock of Fiddler on the Roof. The Joseph Stein Memorial Fund was established the following season to provide free season tickets to children at The Round Barn Theatre as well as to extend the influence of the Joseph Stein Young Actors Studio, which holds two summer acting camps each summer taught by Round Barn Theatre actors and staff. Eight of Joseph Stein shows have been produced by The Round Barn Theatre, including Plain and Fancy, Fiddler on the Roof, The Baker's Wife, Zorba, Take Me Along (Staged Reading), Rags (Staged Reading), Enter Laughing (Second Stage Productions) and Carmelina (Staged Reading).