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Church play is 48 years in the making

February 11, 2002

Church play is 48 years in the making



By STACEY DANZUSO
chbbureau@innernet.net


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Years ago, the women of Solomon's Evangelical Lutheran Church made homemade cherry pies and ice cream to sell during intermission at the annual Sunday school play.

Since the Crusaders for Christ Sunday school class held its first production in 1955, it has built a loyal following while performing on stages throughout the county.

"It's amazing for 48 years in a row what this little church has done," Pastor Mike Allwein said.

What began as a small fund-raiser on a makeshift stage at New Franklin Elementary School near the Wayne Road church has evolved into a larger production expected to draw about 1,000 people to this weekend's three performances of "January Thaw" at the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Pa.

The shows remain as wholesome and family-oriented as the cherry pies baked when the crowds were smaller.

"A lot of people in the area come every year because they know it will always be a good, clean comedy," Allwein said.

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Gertie Reichard, who is directing this year's play with Allwein, said she is amazed to see children and grandchildren of some of the original actors on stage now.

The plays have moved from New Franklin to Marion Elementary School and some years the cast hits the road, setting up in a different place in the county each weekend in February, she said.

She recalls performances at Newville, Shippensburg, Shady Grove and Tomstown, Pa.

The church later moved the play to Chambersburg Middle School and finally to the Capitol Theatre four or five years ago.

With about 50 people from the church and community helping out each year on everything from set building to advertising, Reichard is hopeful the tradition will continue.

"It's a personal thing for me, but I want to see it turn 50," Reichard said. "I don't want to see it die."

She said she doesn't know what is on tap for the 50th anniversary, two years from now, but she is sure it will be something special. On the 25th anniversary the church repeated its first play, "Betty Jane From Pumpkin Lane."

This year's play, a comedy set in 1946 about two families battling for possession of a house that both have the right to live in, was a little harder to cast because there are 14 characters.

But by Jan. 1, everyone had scripts in hand and the cast has been rehearsing three times a week for the last six weeks, Reichard said.

That left rounding up the dozens of antiques called for in the script.

Everything from kerosene lanterns to a 100-year-old settee and chair had to be dug up from the homes and attics of church members and their relatives.

An oxen yolk gave Reichard the most trouble, so she had someone make one.

"Every antique we've gotten is from different people," Allwein said. "We have some of the old farming families in the congregation, and throughout their families they have all kinds of stuff."

As the cast finishes its final rehearsals this week, Reichard said she is praying for "good health, good weather and a good audience."

"It's amazing how much better a performance they will give one night to the next because of the audience. If the audience is laughing, they get into their characters a little more," she said.

The performances are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre, 159 S. Main St., Chambersburg. Admission is $7 for adults, $3 for ages 6 to 12, and free for those younger than 6. Tickets are available at the door or in advance at the church office, 4856 Wayne Road; the Capitol box office; Shadle Aluminum Products; and J & K Toys at Chambersburg Mall.

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