ARTHUR — Tourism is a big deal in Arthur, driven largely by the presence of the Amish community.
Add another reason to visit the village that sits in both Douglas and Moultrie counties: musical theater.
“The Legend of Noah Zark” will begin a three-month run today at Arthur’s Penn Station. It has been described as a two-by-two mystery musical.
The presentation is expected to further bolster the area’s tourism industry, which has started to rebound following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Angie Parsons, tourism director for Simply Arthur, said she believes “the theater’s going to bring us new faces, new numbers.”
“Our buses this summer have really grown.”
Parsons said the community now gets from nine to 12 buses a week.
An average of 500,000 tourism guests visited Arthur prior to the pandemic, she said. Last year, it rebounded to 270,000.
Cassie Yoder, whose Cass Concepts Productions will bring the musical to the village, said it will end a three-year hiatus of community theater productions in the area.
Yoder has presented hundreds of shows, functions and events since 2015, originally at Green Mill Village Theater at the Best Western Plus Green Mill Village Hotel and Suites Convention Center in Arcola. The pandemic, however, put a stop to that for a while.
She said she moved the production to Arthur because the Arcola location was already booked and Arthur’s Penn Station is a perfect venue.
“I knew it would be such a great fit,” Yoder said. “The shows are based on prairie life. It really ties in the local flavor.”
Yoder reunited with writer and composer Wally Nason as a result of her friendships and connections from the original Blue Gate Musicals partnerships out of Shipshewana, Ind., and Nashville.
She believes people will enjoy Nason’s quirky sense of humor and writing style.
The musical’s protagonist, Noah Zark, played by Trenton Gunsolley, is told by God to change his profession from farmer to opening an antique store. He never thought he would be the prime suspect in the local crime of the century. The crime? Two rare flamingo salt-and-pepper shakers are stolen.
His supposed motive: He could sell them to pay off all his debt, which has accumulated to quite a sum. The local townspeople think Noah is crazy, the local police think he’s a thief, and his family is concerned about their financial future.
The 90-minute musical includes a cast of just two people.
“We joke that Trenton plays Noah, and Camillo (Desantis) plays everybody else,” Yoder said.
Parents don’t have to hesitate about bringing their children to the performance.
“It’s Christian-based,” she said. “Everything (Nason) writes is Christian-based and family-friendly.”
Nason has penned numerous plays, which have been presented from Indiana to Ohio to Pennsylvania — largely communities with an Amish population. One of his musicals, “The Confession,” has been turned into a movie and can be streamed on Amazon.
Local businesses are expected to benefit from musical theater coming to Arthur. One of them is Yoder’s Kitchen.
Anna Herschberger, who with husband Derrick owns Yoder’s, said they are excited “they decided to bring it to Arthur because it will definitely help us.”
She estimates 75 percent of the restaurant’s clientele are “tourists or people who are going to be traveling a distance to get there.”
Arthur Village President Rod Randall said tourism is an important draw for the village’s downtown and its restaurants.
“Since COVID, we’re seeing more and more buses coming in town. I’m sure Cassie’s production will bring even more buses in.”
One of the signs of Arthur’s large tourism base is its welcome center, one of the largest such centers in the area. Randall said the village helps to fund the center, which is in its 50th year.
“Tourism kind of put Arthur on the map in other ways,” he said. “People make Arthur a destination.”
Randall said Penn Station is an ideal location for the musical productions.
Yoder said three community restaurants — Shady Crest Farm Market, Pauly’s BBQ and Yoder’s — will provide meals for the actors. She said Penn Station has two apartments that will house actors.
Penn Station also hosts a country music night on Wednesdays and a cowboy church on Sundays.
Yoder said the next production will be a Christmas show, which will be announced later in the year.