Ross Music Theater has been the cornerstone of the Northwest Indiana arts community for over half a century. It began in 1964 when it was established by Jerauld J. Reinhart, a beloved regional music/theater educator for the Merrillville School System, who remained active in the regional arts community until well into his 80s.
"Dad wanted to share his passion with others," said Michael Reinhart, who today heads up the program founded by his father, whose love of the arts was passed on to him and his seven siblings. "Dad was Merrillville High School's choral director for 39 years and Ross Music Theatre director for 50 years." Michael's wife Melinda Reinhart currently holds her late father-in-law's choral director position at Merrillville High School.
"It was the only thing like it in Northwest Indiana at that time, so his productions pulled people in from all over the area. Sometimes he had casts as large as 200 people," said Reinhart, who took over when his father took ill in 2011. His father passed away in 2014. "Dad started out in the gymnasium using the gym stage, when that got too small, he used the gym floor, and helped facilitate and design the school's current auditorium which opened in 1972 (now named Reinhart Auditorium) where we still do the shows today."
Michael Reinhart met his wife Melinda in 1986 when both were cast in a Ross Music Theater production of "Bye Bye Birdie," but it was not until a year later when they were cast opposite each other in 1987's production of "Brigadoon," that love bloomed. The couple formed M&M Productions in 1992 and merged it with Ross Music Theater to present a long series of quality productions over the years, including "Fiddler on the Roof," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Wizard of Oz," "Scrooge," "Music Man," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Phantom of the Opera," and many more.
Of all the shows Ross Music Theatre has produced, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," has been the most successful.
"Joseph's father had two wives, two mistresses and several children of which Joseph was his favorite, which is why he is given this beautiful Technicolor coat," explained Reinhart of the musical's storyline. "The brothers become jealous, so they arrange to sell him (into slavery), then tell their father Joseph died fighting a killer goat. It is believed Joseph can interpret dreams so when the Pharaoh hears this, he frees Joseph and he becomes Pharaoh 's right hand man. It's really a very colorful, fast moving, and enjoyable story; done almost entirely through music, singing and dancing.
"We first did it in 1995 and sold out Reinhart Auditorium 10 times," said Reinhart. "We did it again in 2000 and sold out 6 more times. In 2001, Charlie Blum asked us to perform it at Star Plaza Theatre where it played two nights in front of over 2,300 people each night. We last did 'Joseph' in 2004, also to sold out audiences. Every year since, we've gotten asked, 'When are you doing 'Joseph' again?'"
The answer is -- "NOW!" The current run features over 200 cast members (including the children's choral group), with several actors back in familiar costumes. "Melinda has been narrator since 1995. Jared Riddle has been 'Pharaoh' since 1995, except for one night at the Star Plaza and in 2000, when he had surgery," said Reinhart. "Our 'Joseph' had been the same for years, but this year we have the very talented Matt Fayson in the role."
Fayson, a U.S. Navy veteran, displays his love of theater with a tattoo of the recognizable "comedy & tragedy masks" on one arm and a large microphone on the other. "My family's thing is sports, but they know I love doing this and really support me," said Fayson of Merrillville. "It was Mrs. Reinhart who gave me a little nudge in the direction of music back then, so it's great to be able to be doing this with them now."
Playing 'Pharoah' is a blast because he is a very Elvis Presley-like character who embodies the Americana "dream can come true" ideology that I connect to," said Riddle. "Pharaoh is really a clueless guy who wants to understand dreams he has been having, so he drags 'Joseph' into his court and they become quite the pair. Pharaoh 's songs are done in an old rock 'n' roll, Vegas-style way that's just fun to do." Riddle confessed he was not much of an Elvis fan until he started watching old Elvis movies while researching The King's mannerisms for his 1995 Pharaoh role.
The directorial couple's own children now carry on the family tradition. Son Jacob Reinhart is singing and dancing in the current production as one of Joseph's bungling brothers.
Ross Music Theatre in association with M & M Productions puts on a two show season every year with an occasional third show. Their summer show is usually late July and winter's is done in February or March, with a holiday production in late November. They also offer theater classes and workshops so as to carry on Jerauld J. Reinhart's lifelong mission of igniting a passion for the theater arts in Northwest Indiana's youth at a small studio theater M&M Productions maintains in neighboring Hobart.
FYI: Ross Music Theater's "JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT" runs at 7 p.m. July 22, 23, 29, and 30 / 3 p.m. July 24 and 31 at Reinhart Auditorium/Merrillville High School, East 68th Place, Merrillville. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students. Call (219) 413-1213 or visit m-mproductions.