The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2023

Gaithers and Gospel…

In the early 1990s, the gospel music scene witnessed expansive growth thanks to the Gaither Vocal Band. On Sunday, April 23 at 7 p.m. the long-anticipated arrival of the iconic group will take place on The Niswonger stage. The Gaither Vocal Band was founded by legendary gospel songwriter and producer, Bill Gaither. They have performed in the world’s most prestigious venues, including the Sydney Opera House, The Kennedy Center, and Carnegie Hall. The list of men who have comprised the Gaither Vocal Band over the past 30 years reads like a “Who’s Who” among the gospel music industry’s best-loved voices, including Steve Green, Larnelle Harris, Mark Lowry, Michael English, David Phelps, and many others.

So just who is this great trailblazer who brought gospel music to the masses? The pages of history have been written by ordinary people who had something extraordinary to say with their lives. Bill Gaither is just such an individual. He is Indiana bred with an insatiable love for music and grew to become an industry leader who would change the course of gospel music history through his written songs and his influence as a mentor for other artists.

An avid fan of gospel quartets throughout his childhood, Bill founded his first group, The Bill Gaither Trio, in 1956, while he was a college student. He began teaching English in 1959 because his musical aspirations couldn’t support him full-time. In 1962, Bill did one of the best things he has ever done. He married Gloria Sickal, who became the best writing partner Bill could have found anywhere. The couple spent the first five years of their married life juggling full-time teaching jobs, writing, singing, recording, and publishing until music became their full-time career in 1967.

The Gaither Vocal Band will perform at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center on April 23. Photo submitted

The collaborations of Bill and Gloria have resulted in more than 700 popular gospel songs, including the hymnal standard “Because He Lives,” “The King Is Coming,” “Something Beautiful,” “He Touched Me,” “It Is Finished,” “There’s Something About That Name,” “Let’s Just Praise The Lord,” and “Loving God, Loving Each Other.” Bill and Gloria have collectively won eight Grammy Awards and more than a dozen nominations. They have received more than two dozen Dove Awards from The Gospel Music Association, earning the title of Gospel Music Association’s “Songwriter of the Year” eight times.

After decades of unprecedented musical successes, Bill and Gloria still operate their business from Bill’s hometown of Alexandria, Indiana, and they dwell in the same home in which they raised their family. They live a lifestyle focused on investing their resources into eternal things.

“Our calling is not just making music… but communicating the reality of Christ. That might mean birthing a song about Him or simply offering a cup of cold water to someone who needs it. Gloria and I have never claimed to have God figured out, but we know that if He could use two imperfect people like us to communicate His Truth to the world, He can use everyone sitting in the audience, working on our staff, or singing with us. If we have done anything right over the years, I hope we have built bridges where people could connect with God and with each other. That is what started us writing and what will keep us going for the rest of our lives.”

Van Wert will be alive with gospel music and praise on April 23 as an eager audience from as far as Texas, Connecticut, and Canada converge upon our music city for a Gaither Music Band experience to remember!

POSTED: 03/29/23 at 3:38 am. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment

Back to the 90s…

The 90s is referred to as The Good Decade. People born in the 90s were the very first digital natives. Before iPods and other portable gadgets, they had walkmans and discmans. Before Wi-Fi and constant connectivity, they had dial-up Internet. Before mobile phones became our primary source of information and communication, they had walkie-talkies. From Seinfeld to rave culture, Princess Diana’s death to the Air Jordan craze, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Spice Girls’ rise, the history of the last decade of a millineum is noteworthy.

Nineties nostalgia is pervasive in nearly all entertainment and many believe ’90s pop culture has come of age once again because the decade produced some of the most influential television, music, and movies. But why is it so entrenched in the lives of a new generation who have grown up with information at their fingertips and phones that are used for everything except calling close friends?

The 1990s were a unique period in modern history in terms of technology and social connection. At the start of that decade, mobile phones were for the rich and famous and did nothing but make and receive calls. The internet hadn’t been invented, google was a made-up word, and social media was getting together to watch 90210 or play the box of CD’s that just arrived in the mail from you BMG Music Club subscription.

1990s alternative Rock Band Sister Hazel will peform at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center on April 1. Photo submitted

So why the internet generation wants to watch reruns of Friends and Seinfeld may go back to nostalgia. When you need a pick-me-up you go back to a time of feel good memories. The 90’s wasn’t called The Good Decade for nothing. Although the substance of these 90s cult classics may be dated in many ways, they still contain universal themes to which young people can relate. There are enough similarities in the era’s shows and music that the younger generation can relate to even if it is not identical to their own experience. Friends is a show about negotiating life in your early 20s by way of relationships and laughter. Always laughter. And while our screens are becoming saturated with sitcoms from the 90s, our AirPods are being filled with sounds from the Spice Girls, Nirvana, and Oasis.

And in Van Wert, Sister Hazel is playing at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center. Sister Hazel is an American alternative rock band from Gainesville, Florida, whose style blends elements of jangle pop, folk rock, classic rock, and southern rock. Like any good 90s band, their music quickly gained television and cinematic interest and was featured in several movies and soundtracks including Major League: Back to the Minors, The Wedding Planner, Clay Pigeons, Bedazzled and 10 Things I Hate About You. Sister Hazel also appear on the Fleetwood Mac tribute album, Legacy: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours with their cover version of “Gold Dust Woman”. In 1999, they recorded a cover of “September Gurls” for the Big Star tribute album, Big Star, Small World. However, the track was not included when the album was released in 2006. The song “Where Do You Go” was featured on Scrubs (Season 6, Episode 4, “My House”).

On Saturday, April 1, relive the 90s Sister Hazel iconic anthems, Happy, All For You, Change Your Mind, Champagne High and more. Tickets are available from just $35 at

POSTED: 03/22/23 at 3:37 am. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment

The Beat Goes On…

March is Women’s History Month and an appropriate time to look ahead to “The Beat Goes On” Tribute to Cher featured at The Niswonger at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22. Cher, known as “The Goddess of Pop” is an American singer, actress, and television personality. This trailblazer was known to break down walls in the male-dominated entertainment industry by penning a book of her own empowered guidelines. Cher is the only artist to date to have a number-one single on a Billboard chart in six consecutive decades, from the 1960s to the 2010s. 

The Beat Goes On Tribute to Cher is the second concert feature of The Enrich Series sponsored by Roger and Kay Okuley and Ken and Marilyn Merkle. This Vegas-style show is a masterful tribute to the living legend and lends American pop culture to the Enrich series. 

Lisa McCowry is the producer and lead singer/actress of “The Beat Goes On” which celebrates the extraordinary life and music of Cher. Lisa delights in portraying a woman who empowers other women. Like Cher who brilliantly played the real lives of strong women in the iconic movies Silkwood and Mask, Lisa finds great purpose in portraying the real life of Cher – the singing voice, the look, the walk, the talk, a living breathing powerful, and vulnerable human being.  

Lisa remembers watching and reading interviews where Cher talked about the preparation and research it took to play the roles of the lead women in Silkwood and Mask. She described the intense responsibility to be authentic, raw, and believable in the roles. She was a leader and her approach was an inspiration for Lisa. 

“She was so proud and understandably so,” McCowry said. “So thank you, Cher, for your outstanding career and for empowering woman to take chances, let go, and say exactly what is on their minds.”

“As a female producer, singer, and actress in the business, playing Cher has brought an inner strength to the surface,” she added. “It’s a balance of playing her larger-than-life qualities while keeping it real with vulnerability.”

Tickets for the show begin at just $25. The experience is a true entertainment value as nothing is overlooked including the make-up and mannerisms. In addition, Lisa McClowry’s show incorporates dynamic dialogue, humor, seriously fun audience participation, and integrated interactive LED multimedia. The show includes eight iconic costume changes and demonstrates the timeless power of Cher’s decades of music. 

Our clocks have now sprung ahead but this tribute experience provides the opportunity to Turn Back Time! The hits just keep coming from Van Wert Live! 

POSTED: 03/15/23 at 8:25 am. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment

Step on up!

The Enrich Series 2023 kicks off, quite literally with dance sensation the StepCrew at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 19. After a bit of a break, the StepCrew is refreshed and back on the road and The Niswonger is one of their first stops on their return to the USA. These talented performers make their way from Ontario to Maine, to New York, to Indiana, to Michigan and then direct to you in Van Wert.

The StepCrew, in an unbelievable new show brings together three styles of exhilarating dance forms – Ottawa Valley stepdance, Irish stepdance, and Tap. With virtuosic dancers and musicians from the Chieftains, Cherish The Ladies, and Bowfire, this cast of outstanding talent takes you on a dance journey as champions in their respective art forms showing audiences the striking similarities and differences between these three captivating styles.

As if dancing weren’t enough, the StepCrew boasts three world-class fiddlers backed by an impressive five-piece ensemble comprised of some of the most talented and respected musicians in the Celtic music scene today. Enjoy our site and check out our tour dates – there’s nothing quite like seeing it live.

The StepCrew will dance into the Niswonger Performing Arts Center on Sunday, March 19. Photos submitted

Here’s what people are saying about their performance:

“Lots of variety including a wonderful Scottish singer. We enjoyed the multi-talented performers, awesome fiddle players, great dancers with amazing stamina, and hand clapping, toe-tapping, totally delighted the audience! Loved it! Great Show.”

“The dance company caught my eye so I purchased tickets for my ballet/ballroom and Irish dancer friend also. She got two tickets for her husband and son…The show was even better than I imagined! They did the waltz-educated us all about types of tap-sang played fabulous instruments and gave me a great evening to remember. What enthusiasm from start to finish…..loved the tapping and everything about the ensemble. Thank you soooo much- hope they return to town again.”

“This was an energetic upbeat performance. There was clear talent on the part of every performer. I came to see step dancing and instead saw a variety show that had little step dancing, lots of tap dancing, and great music. It was entertaining and I would definitely take my family to see it again!”

We certainly are blessed by the Niswonger stage of inspiration. Some call that luck but we all know it didn’t happen by chance. You do get to take a chance at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 19 and see if you indeed find it to be the performance pot of gold you’ve been seeking. If luck is considered curiosity fulfilled, the StepCrew will certainly not disappoint. Step this way for a Celtic thrill!

POSTED: 03/07/23 at 2:18 pm. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment

It’s a doubleheader weekend!

The sun is shining and we are running fast and furious into spring. There is no better time to serve up a double dose of entertainment goodness with a doubleheader weekend of delight. The iconic Air Supply will belt out their beloved love ballads on Friday night in spectacular fashion, then on Saturday evening the Newsboys come to town energize the audience with anthems of faith.

The trademark sound of Russell Hitchcock’s soaring tenor voice and Graham Russell’s simple but majestic compositions create a unique sound that is forever known as Air Supply. They are known worldwide for their epic songs that still command the airwaves, advertisements, movies, and memes, keeping them relevant to all generations.

In this 45th anniversary year, the duo continues to tour the world, having performed in England, Ireland, Israel, the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Canada, and many other countries, of course including their home, the United States. A unique fact, the duo has never had an argument in the span of their friendship since meeting in 1975. Their relationship is a true testament to their respect, passion, and love for Air Supply and their deep friendship. Find out that even the nights are better in Van Wert this Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Air Supply (above) will perform on Friday and the Newsboys (below) will take the NPAC stage on Saturday. Photos submitted

Up next in the weekend entertainment adventure is Newsboys, Let The Music Speak Tour! This band is one of the most widely known in Christian music history. They have sold more than 10 million albums across 23 recordings and garnered boundless accolades, including one RIAA Platinum certification and eight gold certifications, 33 No. 1 radio hits, four Grammy nominations, two American music award nominations, and multiple Dove Awards. With signature songs like “We Believe”, “Born Again” and the unstoppable megahit “God’s Not Dead” – which birthed a film franchise of the same name – Newsboys have continued to collect career-defining accolades at full speed ahead. For over three decades, the band has toured extensively throughout the world to present their unparalleled high-energy shows, from their formation in Australia to their current residence in the United States, and everywhere in between.

The one common thread of this double-feature is the music on both nights has the power to leave you better than it found you. Let uplifting and encouraging music help carry you through the end of the wintertime blues. The Niswonger has your weekend entertainment fix. If it’s too hard to pick just one, go to both. It’s sure to be fun!

POSTED: 03/01/23 at 4:48 am. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment

A laughter guarantee

When is the last time you heard 1200 people laughing at the same time? I can tell you it is a beautiful sound! Sunday was an experience to remember as families from around the region converged upon The Niswonger to make memories at Puppy Pals. The experience certainly delivered. There’s just something about how laughter makes a memory more permanent in our minds. Like it is some magical glue that knows the recall can be even sweeter than the moment!

Laughter is our February guarantee as we look ahead to Menopause The Musical at 3 p.m. Saturday, February 25. If you are wondering, you don’t have to be a woman of a certain age to have a ball at this hysterical show. The show is known to produce howls of laughter (no exaggeration!) from start to finish, a standing ovation, and a rush to the stage when the audience is invited to dance with the cast during curtain calls.

Menopause The Musical is a 90-minute performance of four women navigating life changes that unite all women to the tune of sketched-out parodies of pop songs from the ’60s and ’70s. Bloomie’s is where these ladies meet and where the entire show takes place. From the jewelry to the lingerie to the cosmetics department, in the bathroom, beauty salon, and restaurant, they bond over hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, and other menopausal milestones-all to the tune of baby-boomer ditties. “California Girls” becomes “Wish we all could be sane and normal girls”; “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is transformed into “In the guest room or on the sofa, my husband sleeps tonight”; “Chain of Fools” is “Change of Life”; “Stayin’ Alive” is “Stayin’ Awake”; and so on.

Menopause The Musical is coming to the Niswonger Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 25. Photo submitted

To illustrate how life changes bring everyone together, the cast offers up four diverse characters: Power Woman, Soap Star, Iowa Housewife, and Earth Mother. These personas have a way of connecting powerfully with the audience as everyone sees either themselves or someone they know reflected in the unpredictable parody.

The performers are talented and their verve plays a large part in winning over the audience. It’s a laugh fest you don’t want to miss! But don’t take it from me. You can trust the reviews of a show in its 21st year and ranks 17th as the longest-running musical in Las Vegas history, performing nightly at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Menopause The Musical has been seen by more than 17 million people, it has played in every state in the continental U.S. and more than 500 cities worldwide and has been translated into nine languages.

The Niswonger stage of inspiration is also known for its purpose in education. This show will have you laughing a lot and learning perhaps a little about the humorous realities of being human. Laughing together is far better than laughing alone. Join us for a matinee to remember for as long as we can! Oh, did I already say that?

POSTED: 02/14/23 at 2:12 pm. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment

Enrich Series Breaks Loose 

The ENRICH Community Concert Series has a rich heritage in Van Wert County dating back to 1953. A group of local music lovers teamed with Columbia Artists of New York City to form the Van Wert County Community Concert Association. Over the years, the association presented seasons of three to five concerts a year with most of them being performed in the Lincoln School Auditorium and eventually the Marsh School Auditorium.  

Over the years, attendance grew and many national and international performers graced the Community Concert stages across the country and in Van Wert. The motto was, “A Carnegie Hall in Every Town.” By the time the plans for the Niswonger Performing Arts Center began to take shape in 2005, Community Concert memberships were at an all-time high of over 700. The capacity of the Marsh Auditorium was around 530. It became obvious that the community of Van Wert could and would support a much larger performance hall. 

In March of 2007, the Niswonger Performing Arts Center of Northwest Ohio opened with a capacity of 1200 seats. It was natural for the Community Concert Series to morph into the operations of the newly formed non-profit extension of the Van Wert County Foundation, the Van Wert Area Performing Arts Foundation. In 2017, the series was named ENRICH and despite taking a two-year respite during the pandemic, returned successfully in 2022.  

The 2023 Enrich Series, presented by Roger & Kay Okuley and Ken & Marilyn Merkle, is no different as four masterful performances were packaged together at a 20 percent discount to make art and entertainment accessible, affordable, and inspire wonder! Still available as a package with 20 percent savings for as low as $80 or now available for individual sale at regular ticket prices, the 2023 shows put iconic Americana and artistry into the Niswonger roster. 

The Enrich Series provides different types of entertainment.

It all begins with the rhythmic dancing sensation, The Step Crew. This unbelievable new show brings together three styles of exhilarating dance forms – Ottawa Valley stepdance, Irish stepdance, and Tap. With virtuosic dancers and musicians, this cast of outstanding talent takes the audience on a dance journey. As if dancing weren’t enough, The StepCrew boasts three world-class fiddlers backed by an amazing five-piece ensemble comprised of some of the most talented and respected musicians in the Celtic music scene today.

Adding pizazz to the series is a tribute to one of the most dazzling iconic divas of the 20th century, Cher. Lisa McClowry uncannily and perfectly captures Cher in a Broadway-style live stage show, The Beat Goes On Tribute To Cher. Cher parlayed her music stardom into success on movie screens and television and became a living legend. Having sold 100 million records to date, she is one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Her achievements include a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, an Academy Award, three Golden Globe Awards, a Cannes Film Festival Award, the Billboard Icon Award, and awards from the Kennedy Center Honors and the Council of Fashion Designers of America. She is the only artist to date to have a number-one single on a Billboard chart in six consecutive decades, from the 1960s to the 2010s. This theatrical extravaganza incorporates dynamic dialogue, humor, seriously fun audience participation, eight costume changes, and video projection with amazing visuals and animations. Experience Cher’s hits with a live band spanning from the 60’s to now including, I Got You Babe, Gypsies Tramp, and Thieves, I Found Someone, The Way of Love, Dark Lady, If I Could Turn Back Time and more. 

The music of The Eagles has commanded a following by nearly every generation since 1971. Their distinctive songs that transport us back to a carefree day will be featured on The Niswonger stage. Hotel California’s “A Salute to the Eagles” has risen to a level of recognition normally reserved for Gold and Platinum recording artists. By respectfully and accurately reproducing the Grammy award-winning sounds of our generation’s Greatest American Songbook, this legendary Southern California group, has touched the hearts of fans all over the world.  Hotel California’s “A Salute to the Eagles” is the only tribute show to have ever received “Official Authorization” to perform the Eagle’s catalog of music. No need to travel down a dark desert highway to experience the songs you love. 

There’s no illusion that throwing some tricks in the mix makes for a compelling series! The grand finale is the REZA: Edge Of Illusion Tour, recognized as one of today’s most highly sought-after entertainers in the touring illusion industry, delivering innovative, engaging, and spectacular performances worldwide. Reza’s recent tour and television appearances have astounded over 30 million viewers from across the World. Reza’s Edge Of Illusion Tour is a ground-breaking grand-scale production that was designed specifically to engage with the audience in a memorable and mystifying way.

Van Wert Live believes in putting purchasing power in the hands of our patrons. The Enrich Series is now available in many ways with value being top of mind. Purchase all four concerts at a 20% savings, purchase individually, or bundle together with other shows on the roster to create your own package and receive a 20 percent discount. It’s entertainment how you want it and when you want it in Van Wert. 

POSTED: 02/08/23 at 4:39 am. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment

“Paws”itive Family Fun

The first Van Wert Live event of 2023 is making a lot of noise in the box office. The Puppy Pals Comedic Stunt Dog Show at 3 p.m. Sunday, February 12, has sold over 1,000 tickets with a few days remaining until showtime. This high demand demonstrates that family entertainment at the right price hits a sweet spot with families throughout the region.

Dr. Erica Unverferth, of Unverferth Family Dentistry, is the proud presenting sponsor of the show. As someone who grew up in the area and returned to open her practice and raise her family in Northwest Ohio, Dr. Unverferth understands the value of such an opportunity for entertainment at home.

“As a family of 6, my family and I enjoy different forms of affordable entertainment. We are incredibly lucky to have the Niswonger to bring shows like Puppy Dog Pals to the area,” she said. “As a kid, I only remember viewing the arts as field trips in school so it’s great my children get the opportunity to explore options other than sports in the area to keep them well-rounded.”

The Puppy Pals Comedic Stunt Dog Show is coming to the Niswonger Performing Arts Center at 3 p.m. Sunday, February 12.

So what should people expect for this Sunday matinee performance and free pre-show lobby party? The Lobby Doors will open at 2 p.m. and guests are invited to enjoy the pre-show entertainment sponsored by the Animal Clinic of Van Wert. Young patrons can participate in face painting, caricature art, and balloon animals before enjoying the show.

The talented pups will burst on the Niswonger stage at 3 p.m. with a hilarious experience for the entire family. This canine spectacle stars mostly rescued dogs. From shelters to showbiz, the show features a variety of stunts – from a jumping hurdle routine, climbing and diving off a high ladder, balancing on a barrel, jumping rope, dogs driving cars, and many other challenging, fun, and other spectacular stunts and breathtaking feats.

As seen on American’s Got Talent, the cast of performers and stunt dogs delight and dazzle with some of the most incredible dog stunts and behaviors ever performed by a man’s best friend. To make the opportunity even sweeter, tickets are family-friendly from $15-35.

The Van Wert Live team is bringing entertainment to you to bust through the winter blues with “paws”itive family fun at the Niswonger.

POSTED: 02/01/23 at 12:32 pm. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment

A Family Thing…

As January comes to a close, we look ahead to all the shows and our audience that continues to grow. The Niswonger patron on any given night has traveled an average of 30 miles to be entertained. The majority of which are families who are looking for memory-making opportunities from the stage. But what is it that beckons our friends from far and near? For this information, I relied upon our patrons who made their points quite clear.

Audra Zinn grew up in Van Wert and has returned after living in urban settings hundreds of miles from northwest Ohio. She was delighted to return home and see the opportunity for arts and culture to exist in her hometown.

“I truly appreciate the regional stage of the Niswonger Performing Arts Center being right here in my backyard,” Zinn said. “Having access to a variety of entertainment within our community is important to me and my kiddos… and this place nails it!”

Van Wert takes great pride in their performing arts center. On any given night at The Niswonger, Van Wert residents account for 30 percent of the audience. The other 70 percent in 2022 alone came from 37 states and Canada. Nearly 10 percent of this audience attended the Niswonger for the very first time. The Van Wert Live mission is to provide entertainment experiences that are so good they demand a return. Our hope is that the average customer will attend three shows in a calendar year. This hope drives operational action. From the moment tickets are purchased until after the customer leaves the parking lot, our focus is to ensure the customer experience is deserving of a return.

The Niswonger Performing Arts Center is the crown jewel of Van Wert. Photos courtesy of Darin Hohman, Dark Horse Productions

We are not always perfect in our delivery, but overwhelmingly, we hear positive reviews about the hospitable service guests receive when they attend a show. For more insights, I contacted a ticket buyer from Lima, Ohio to receive their honest feedback on their entertainment experience.

“We’ve been to venues around the country both large and small,” said Brenda Waltermire of Lima. “The size of the Niswonger facility, the quaintness of the environment, and the service provided by the staff are unprecedented. The maintenance of the facility is very important to our family. The Niswonger both looks and smells nice and that matters. The little details like the ‘Know Before You Go’ communication provides ease and is so accommodating. You really can’t ask for better prices for the quality performances that Van Wert Live delivers.”

The glowing reviews add fuel to our operation fire. But the Van Wert Live team knows that continuous improvement is vital for continued growth. After every Van Wert Live performance, a survey is shared with the ticket buyers of that event. We want to know if the experience improved your mood for the better. Was the experience so good that you will return? Was this your first show at the Niswonger? How can we do better? This information is very valuable to our staff who reviews each response and creates actionable items to address them effectively.

The Niswonger Performing Arts Center is the crown jewel of Van Wert County. The Van Wert Live staff is grateful for the opportunity to serve the region with entertainment from this opulent venue. The roster for 2023 continues to grow and boasts both popular commercial artists and new emerging artists. Van Wert is an entertainment destination for over 35,000 people a year. Until there is not one empty seat on any given night, the quest for audience growth is incomplete. Please help us share the good news of entertainment right at home that is hard to beat.

POSTED: 01/25/23 at 4:39 am. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment

Annie Jr. Brings Sunshine

What happens when you put two good things together? Broadway in Van Wert with 50 of our very own regional youth on our very own big stage is what happens. The Van Wert Civic Theater brings you Annie Jr. at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, January 21, and 2 p.m. Sunday, January 22. Our area youth have the opportunity to perform on the stage where national touring artists have entertained each of them. Now it is their turn to be the star in the spotlight.

This epic production, under the direction of Doug Grooms, is a one-hour version of the musical that has long claimed a piece of our hearts. Emily Foudy as Annie is determined to find the parents who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of an orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan. Annie foils the evil schemes of Tess Vonderwell as Miss Hannigan, Katelyn Knepper as Lily St. Regis, and Dante’ Lippi as Rooster to begin her life in a new home and family with billionaire Oliver Warbucks and his personal secretary, Grace Farrell, portrayed by Evan Falk and Rachael Ryan.

The Van Wert Live Production Team works closely with the Van Wert Civic Theater in this rehearsal of Lion King Jr. in 2022. Photo submitted

This arts collaboration between Van Wert Live and The Van Wert Civic Theater is the result of looking at new ways to work together to drive organizational missions forward for the benefit of the community and culture. Last year’s production of Lion King Jr. was a roaring success and paved the way for continued partnering. Both organizations uphold missions that complement one another and have the same key ingredients to fulfill their purpose – a performance, a stage, and a deep desire to entertain an audience.

VWCT Director, Doug Grooms, shares a unique perspective of the valuable Van Wert arts collaboration.

“A much younger me, growing up in rural Ohio, craved opportunities to engage with others to create and perform. I found my niche in school-based classes and extracurricular activities. I knew that somewhere, though, there were big cities with big stages filled with orchestras and casts performing for appreciative audiences. These places, to my knowledge and experience, however, were mostly strange and inaccessible. A much older me knows different. Though the big stages in big cities continue to be far away from most of us, there are small towns and rural communities – Van Wert being one, where performing arts are valued and thrive both in and outside of the public schools. The Van Wert Civic Theatre, rich in tradition, knowledge, craft, and resources, has staged plays and musicals by and for the community for over sixty years. In the more recent years, this community theatre has cultivated a program to support young performers who are hungry to get on stage. Since being built, the big stage at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center has served the Van Wert community by giving our school students a state of the art venue in which to hone their craft. Additionally, the community-at-large has delighted and grown as Van Wert Live has brought us so many varied performers from all over the world. The fit could not be more perfect: Van Wert Civic Theatre and Van Wert Live share resources to support the mission of both and in doing so our youth who wonder about those far away big stages can find a safe and welcoming place right here where they can take on big challenges, be brave, grow, perform, and thrill.”

Tickets are available now at or through the VWLive Box Office (419.238.6722) from only $10. The VWCT and the Niswonger stage provide a door to opportunity for young artists and an entertaining adventure for our audience. The unique aspect of “live” entertainment is it only happens once. We hope you won’t miss this collaborative community theater performance and bet your bottom dollar that you will be glad you did.

POSTED: 01/17/23 at 1:38 pm. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment