Bulldozer versus Push-cart in New YSKP Musical

This review was recently published in Yellow Springs News

It’s that time of year again: midsummer in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when fireflies dazzle brighter and 80-foot murals come to life. It’s the time when our youth has something big to say, so we come together under a dreamy sky and listen. For twenty-one years, YS Kids Playhouse has been enchanting and nurturing our community through live performance. It’s the top producer of locally-grown stories, having commissioned over thirty original works since the group was founded by John Fleming in 1995. New Artistic Director, Ara G. Beal, is at the helm this season and this summer’s musical

is the first hint of what the future holds for “The Little Theater That Could.”

There’s something special happening in this year’s YSKP production. Inspired by the Whitehall Farm Auction, familiar Orwellian themes, and classic rock and roll, The Farm brings together big-hearted animals, sleazy talking heads, and an honest family of farmers who tee-off for the fate of their beloved land. Written by Joan Sand, The Farm is a gripping musical about community, standing up for what’s right, and the difficulties of finding one’s place in an ever-changing world. It’s the perfect story for young people to tell, as they are often on the front-lines of these very issues.

One of the strengths of The Farm is its impassioned ensemble. The cast is solid and confident, fluid and spontaneous. Character is a major theme and watching the players wear their characters, literally, is seriously cool. Animals are played by actors, humans are played by puppets, and spirits weave delicately through the story. Ara G. Beal’s unique directing style shines through in the small, authentic moments between actors. I can say from experience that Beal’s direction not only sharpens actor’s skills, but also develops them into more effective communicators.

The music in The Farm is comforting, like a faded Led Zeppelin tee. Composer Ryan Betts has crafted the perfect playlist to compliment Joan Sand’s libretto. Pieced together with riffs and melodies from Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, and the Great American songbook, The Farm sounds just like home. Musical Director, Barbara Leeds, and local musicians, Kevin Mulhall, Mike Kremer, Meredith Rowe, and Steve Lewis, do an amazing job capturing the essence of the musical’s source material. Although the lyrics have been altered to fit Sand’s story, it is a joy hearing these songs get a new lease on life.

A big shout-out to Pierre Nagley and Travis Tarbox Hotaling for creating a beautiful backdrop for The Farm. The mural is like Ohio’s Greatest Hits: rolling hills,  honeycomb colored sunflowers, long stretches of corn and soybeans. As one character in the show puts it, “How much better does it get?” Something else that stands out are the impressive visual elements. Life-size puppets, tractors, and clever picket signs are just some of the things that tie The Farm together.

Beal’s dedication to the company’s roots, big ideas, and meaningful questions for our time is clear in this production. Through sweet, thoughtful, and poignant moments, The Farm touches on much bigger themes which audiences of any age will appreciate. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to see what happens when passionate young people realize they are capable of so much more than they once thought. Rain or shine, YSKP delivers a magical and worthwhile experience for all.

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