Several years ago, when I walked through the doors of Central Christian School’s (CCS) Performing Arts Center in Kidron, Ohio, I had no idea what to expect from the evening. I’d been told enough to pique my interest, but not so much that it would remove the element of surprise.
What I knew was the name of the show, the Frohliche Dorf, German for “happy village.” I knew the show was a benefit for CCS’s music department. I also knew that the Dorf would be a live variety show written by CCS’s music director, Tim Shue, and his collaborator Brenda Troyer. Shue is a creative powerhouse, the mind and energy behind some of the area’s best musical endeavors, which he sandwiches between teaching at CCS, stalking wild birds, hand-carving wooden bowls and spoons in his home Shudio, and raising delightful daughters and charming chickens. He does quality work, and I figured this would be no exception.
I was right, of course. That first presentation of the Dorf was a big success, selling out the PAC and keeping its audience in stitches for nearly three hours with sketch comedy complete with sound effects, special guest authors and performers, and a solid soundtrack by house band, Honeytown and the specially-assembled Doofendorf Polka Band.
This year, on Saturday, Feb. 22, I walked through the doors of the PAC again, this time with some idea of what to expect from the third version of the Dorf, which has now become a biennial tradition. I was given a hint by my husband, Toby, that there would be at least one segment that promised to be completely out of the ordinary. Toby had attended rehearsals as bass player for the house band and also as a member of Sonnenberg Station, a men’s vocal ensemble based in Kidron that has appeared at the Dorf each year. And while Toby knows I don’t like spoilers, there were a few things he simply couldn’t keep to himself. I knew that this year’s guest vocalist would be the incredibly talented CCS alumna, Betsy Hart, and that the show’s perennial favorites, Clip and Clop, the Buggy Talk Guys, would make a reappearance. He told me, too, that Paul Stutzman, author of Hiking Through, Biking Through, and The Wanderers, would stop by. Auctioneer Joseph Mast, whose talents have graced screens around the world through his recent fast-talking appearance in one of Geico’s quirky, off-the-wall commercials, would also take the stage.
“And there’s one other thing,” my husband told me. “I’m not going to tell you what it is, but, trust me, it will be epic. You won’t want to miss it.”
So here’s the crux of the show; if you’ve experienced Garrison Keillor’s Minnesota Public Radio program, the Prairie Home Companion, it’s much like that. But instead of a Lutheran focus, Frohliche Dorf’s humor is centered around Amish and Mennonite culture: a comedy sketch about milk tasting instead of wine tasting; references to well-known local institutions and familiar names, like Kidron’s proliferation of Gerbers; lighthearted fun poked at the rural pastimes of birdwatching and tree-tapping; jingles for local businesses sung in three-part harmony by a trio of gals gathered ’round a condenser mic. All of it live, on stage, presented by a cast of about 50 talented actors, musicians, and speakers, and emceed by Kidron’s Bruce Detweiler Breckbill.
The theater filled. The spectators took their seats. The actors hammed it up, the house band was hip, and the polka band played The Happy Wanderer. Hart knocked the audience’s socks off with her stunning vocal performance. Stutzman chatted about his current book projects and upcoming outdoor adventures. Mast demonstrated that auctioneers don’t make good song leaders. And then, about halfway through the show, Todd Martin, pastor of Smithville Mennonite Church, stood center stage with a small, funny musical instrument in his hand. It was time for the epic event at which my husband had hinted. After playing a few songs and telling a couple of stories, Martin announced to the crowd that ushers would distribute little yellow instruments to every person in the packed auditorium. He’d then teach us all a lesson, and we’d join him in an attempt to break the Guinness record in the world’s largest ensemble…of nose flutes. Sure enough, hundreds of folks received the flutes, raised them to their nostrils, and blew. Before long, Martin was leading the crowd in a five-minute interlude of several songs. Photographers, videographers, and official witnesses were on-hand to verify the event. Only time will tell if it will make its way into the famous World Book, but, regardless, the experience is one that will long be remembered by the show’s attendees.
The show closed, as it has each year, with an audience sing-along of several numbers, including the Dorf theme song, the Happy Wanderer. A straw poll from attendees indicates it just might have been the best Dorf yet. The cast will have another chance to knock it out of the park in 2016. In fact, Shue has already started writing the script, and there’s no telling what might be up his sleeve next time.