Goshen News, Goshen, IN

June 14, 2012

‘Plain and Fancy’ shows under way in Nappanee


— One way to tell the “Plain and Fancy” story is through numbers:

• Twenty-six — The number of seasons the show has been performed at Amish Acres. “Plain and Fancy” opened its latest season there May 15.

• More than 500 — The number of actors who have performed in “Plain and Fancy” since its Nappanee debut in 1986.

Count Jeremy Littlejohn among those thespians. Currently artistic director at the Amish Acres Round Barn Theatre, his take on “Plain and Fancy” goes beyond statistics.

“It’s very near and dear to me,” he said. “It was one of the first professional shows I ever did.”

That was in 1998 at the Round Barn. “I was Ezra Reber the first time I went in,” Littlejohn said.

He’s also portrayed Peter Reber, Isaac Miller, Papa Yoder and Dan King — by Littlejohn’s estimation, he’s one of three people who have played all the male roles in the show. He’s been part of close to 700 “Plain and Fancy” performances, and directed the show four times.

As such, Littlejohn is in a good position to sum up what “Plain and Fancy” is all about.  It involves a New Yorker, a descendant from an Amish family, who “comes in and kind of shakes things up” in an Amish community, he said. “Culture clash” is an apt description.

“Everybody learns a lesson, and there’s a major love story involved,” Littlejohn said.

“Plain and Fancy” was written by Joseph Stein. It opened on Broadway in 1955, running for 462 performances.

“It’s extremely well-written,” Littlejohn said of the show. “Joseph Stein did ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ after ‘Plain and Fancy.’ I feel he perfected ‘Fiddler’ by doing ‘Plain and Fancy’ first.”

Littlejohn sees similarities between the two works — the main difference is that “Plain and Fancy” involves the Amish. Aside from that, “Fiddler” and “Fancy” have a love story, great writing and a musical score.

“It’s an amazing example of a classic Broadway musical,” Littlejohn said of “Plain and Fancy.” “It’s structured very much like an ‘Oklahoma’ or any of those old Rodgers and Hammerstein (shows).”

“Plain and Fancy” debuted at Amish Acres in 1986, performed by four actors on a small stage in a replica of the old Locke Township Meeting House. It ran for seven seasons on that stage before productions shifted to the Round Barn Theatre, which was built in 1991.

Fast-forward to 2012, with “Plain and Fancy” featuring several Round Barn theatrical veterans. These include Emily Baer as Ruth Winters, Rory Dunn as Papa Yoder, Timothy Leonard as Isaac Miller, Sarah Philabaum as Emma Miller and Matt Casey as Peter Reber.

Making her debut on the Joseph Stein stage is Katherine Kuehner as Katie Yoder. Debuting with Kuehner and completing the cast are Benjamin Lee Jackson as Dan King, Vanessa Moyen as Hilda Miller and James Brock as Ezra Reber.

Littlejohn said this run of “Plain and Fancy” includes four or five alumni who’ve done the show before. That mix-and-match of veterans and newcomers is by design.

“After you’ve been running the show 26 years, there’s a certain level of remounting it every year,” he said. “It just helps to have people who have experienced it before.”

The history of “Plain and Fancy” extends to Broadway, and Littlejohn said there are very few actors who don’t aspire to Broadway. He takes that approach in working with actors to keep “Plain and Fancy” fresh.

“So I always try to encourage people, ‘What is being on Broadway but opening a show and running it day after day after day for years at a time?,’” he said. “Because this is such a long run — it’s usually six months — that’s a good way to sharpen your skills and make sure you can make the show every bit as good on the last day as it was on the first.”

This season, “Plain and Fancy” is directed by David Craven, with Travis Smith as musical director. The show runs through Oct. 20.

If you want to go

A complete show schedule for “Plain and Fancy,” ticket availability and reservations can be obtained by calling the Amish Acres Round Barn Theatre Box office at 800-800-4942, ext. 2, or by visiting the website www.amishacres.com.