Road Trip Through History? Sort Of.
Several weeks ago, My Own True Love took me to the Round Barn Theater at Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana to see Plain and Fancy, a musical I first discovered when I was in high school. I had developed the habit of checking out obscure soundtracks, opera recordings, and the like from our local library.* I loved the music to Plain and Fancy and I checked out the LP over and over. The play had opened on Broadway more than twenty years previously and had long faded into obscurity. I had no real hope of ever seeing it performed. When I found out that Plain and Fancy is the central show in the summer repertory program at Amish Acres, I was thrilled. I may have even squealed as we drove past the sign.**
Amish Acres is an odd mix: a restored Amish homestead from the mid-nineteenth century used as the center of a “heritage resort”. The site offers tours of the homestead and outbuildings, living history demonstrations, buggy rides, and some efforts at explaining Amish history and culture. A truly glorious round barn has been transformed into a theater which offers a professional summer stock program of musical theater–something that would have been anathema to its original Amish owners. The historical site is a bit dated in its presentation, though it’s possible I’m jaded.*** (I’ve been to a lot of living history programs over the years.) The theater is a lot of fun. The barn is worth a stop all by itself.
Plain and Fancy is the point where the theater and Amish heritage come together. It tells the story of a pair of New Yorkers who find themselves involved with an Amish community for a brief time, with an initial lack of comprehension and gradual understanding on both sides. I must admit, I was afraid I would be disappointed after waiting literally decades for a chance to see the show. I’m pleased to tell you that it’s a charming minor work from the golden age of American musicals. It was the first musical play written by Joseph Stein, best known for Fiddler on the Roof. Plain and Fancy isn’t on the same scale as Fiddler, but shares some of its thematic elements, including an underlying philosophical strain and a respectful exploration of a traditional society. It’s also drop dead funny. If you happen to be driving through northern Indiana and have a taste for classical musical comedy, go.
Next up on the high school wish list, Irving Berlin’s Mr. President.
*Why yes, I did spell nerd with a capital N.
**As those who know me in real life will attest, I am not much of a squealer.
***If you’re interested in a serious look at the history and culture of the Amish, Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups, I recommend the Menno-Hof interpretive center in Shipshewana, Indiana.
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