Travel Treasures Close to Home: Johnny Appleseed Outdoor Historical Drama

by Tom Reed
WMV Web News Cleveland
Story filed July 30, 2004

We may travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to visit a tourist destination, but we sometimes overlook the attractions in our own backyard . These may be in Greater Cleveland, elsewhere in Ohio, or in neighboring states. Here is the second in a series of articles about such places by Tom Reed, a freelance writer who specializes in travel, and who has been writing about various subjects in our Reed's Read segment.

Michael Turay, in the title role of Johnny Appleseed
(photo courtesy Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center, Inc.)
Before summer slips away, you still have time to enjoy Ohio's newest outdoor historical drama, Johnny Appleseed.

The musical dramatization is performed in a 1600-seat amphitheater in a densely wooded area just south of Mifflin, Ohio, near Mansfield and Ashland. It tells the story of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, who spent much of his life in Ohio in the early 1800s.

Performances are scheduled at 8 p.m. nightly except Monday, through September 5.

At first glance, the remote location might seem an unlikely place for such a large theatrical venue. But the promoters say market research shows that people are willing to drive up to two-and-a-half hours to see a historical drama. This site, not far from I-71, is little more than an hour away from the major population centers of Cleveland and Columbus. The show also provides something to do at night for tourists visiting Mohican State Park and other local attractions.

The setting reflects Chapman's love of nature. The amphitheater was built in a deep natural bowl carved into the hillside. Tall trees behind the stage form a natural backdrop. Even the parking lots are wedged between groves of trees. At present, the only major buildings on the site are the amphitheater and the J. M. Smucker Company Auditorium and Library. Future plans call for expanded ticketing facilities, a museum, a gift shop, a classroom, and picnic pavilion. The Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center, Inc. (JAHCI) was created more than a decade ago. It grew out of a lifelong vision by its president and founder, William E. Jones of Cincinnati.

In the title role of Johnny Appleseed, Michael Turay heads a cast of 50. A recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, he has a strong background in opera and musical theater. The orchestral music is recorded, placing some demands on the performers. In an interview before the inaugural performance, Turay told me "you're stuck with the tempo. It limits you a little. Basically it makes the actors have to work a little harder."

Be that as it may, the sound system is so good it makes the audience forget the orchestrations are recorded. And almost every spoken word is audible.

The songs and the script for Johnny Appleseed were written by Billy Edd Wheeler, a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductee who has written songs for such notables as Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Johnny Cash, and Kenny Rogers.

The show is a great place to take the family. For more information, tickets, and directions, check their website

Johnny Appleseed, in its inaugural season this year, is one of five outdoor historical dramas in Ohio. The others are Trumpet in the Land, at New Philadelphia, Tecumseh! at Chillicothe, Blue Jacket at Xenia, and Living Word at Cambridge.

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Copyright 2004 Tom Reed