Bigfork Playhouse: The shows must go on!

Theatre season opens July 2 with protections in place for cast and audience

On Stage

The Bigfork Summer Playhouse lights up the stage with a few concessions to the Coronavirus pandemic, designed to keep the audience and crew safe and healthy. The 61st season opens more than a month later than usual – July 2 instead of May – and includes limited seating and fewer shows. But otherwise, vows associate producer Brach Thomson, the shows will go on!

Expect a rousing 61st season of comedy, drama and musicals (scene from last year's "The Wedding Singer").
Expect a rousing 61st season of comedy, drama and musical theatre (scene from last year’s “The Wedding Singer”).Photo © Bigfork Summer Playhouse

The season opens July 2 with the inspiring Disney musical, “Newsies,” and a grand-scale production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” July 4. Two comedies follow: “Sister Act” joins the repertory line-up July 18, and “Something Rotten!” opens Aug. 1. As usual, the season closes Aug. 27-Sept. 5 with a smorgasbord of hits from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

According to Thomson, the playhouse recruited and signed 20 actors at auditions in New York City, St. Louis and Louisville before the pandemic caused a nationwide shutdown in March. The company, which numbers around 55 people, also includes musicians, a tech crew, costumers, directors and choreographers.

Even though it’s no longer required, the whole crew will quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in Bigfork. “That way, we know the entire company is COVID free and we then can function like a single family home,” says Thomson.

“That means that we don’t have to social distance from each other – so you get a believable story on stage.”

It also protects the cast, who can’t realistically stay six feet apart during a performance. Meanwhile, families of the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre have pitched in to deliver groceries and cook meals for the crew during quarantine.

As for theatre-goers, every other row will be blocked off until the state lifts its strict distancing limits, with two empty seats between reservation groups. Extra cleaning and sanitizing procedures are in place, and the playhouse will urge patrons to wear masks and keep a safe distance in the lobby and theatre.

The playhouse holds 432 people. “Unfortunately, we’re thinking 170 might be a full house for us this summer,” says Thomson.

To help compensate for the loss in ticket revenue, the playhouse applied for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to help meet payroll through the end of June, and has also sought grants to help weather the downturn.

Despite the challenges Thomson remains upbeat about the season. Here’s his cheat sheet on this year’s roster:

“‘Hunchback’ is a powerful show, very orchestral with a great story and wonderful music; ‘Newsies’ is a ‘feel good’ show, with lots of big athletic dance numbers, a few fist fights and a nice love story. ‘Sister Act’ is pure fun – set with a ’70s feel, all of the flair of the Whoopi Goldberg music and even bigger musical numbers and more dance!”

But his personal favorite? The recent musical “Something Rotten!”

Two brothers and aspiring playwrights are trying to write a hit during Shakespeare’s era, but keep getting overshadowed by The Bard. The brothers head to a soothsayer, who divines that the next “big thing” in theatre is something called “a musical.”

“Hilarious dialogue, fun comparisons to famous musical theatre shows and songs, great tap dancing … I can’t imagine anyone leaving after this not having laughed their eye makeup off!”

For tickets or more information, call 406-837-4886 or visit bigforksummerplayhouse.com.