Historic Opera House: Philipsburg, Montana

Four years ago, when I went to an Opera House Theatre production for the first time, I was hooked. This past Sunday I did a double, taking in the afternoon performance with my daughter and son and then heading back solo in the evening. I may be able to get the third show in before we leave town.

Each season, this theater company in Philipsburg, Montana puts on three different melodrama plays, one full-length and two paired with old-time vaudeville variety shows, but updated with original skits. Throughout the summer the plays rotate so, in two days, you can see all three. I always look forward to the laugh fest. It’s not often you can find theatre that satisfies children’s to adults’ tastes. Sunday my son and daughter were guffawing at the same time and the grandparents in the audience were just as loud.

Over the years I’ve seen the company change art and music directors without losing what I found so charming the first time I sat in the audience. During the plays, like with theatre back during vaudeville days, actors are accompanied with piano music that captures the flavor of the action and dialogue. This isn’t over the top entertainment, but sophisticated, tongue-in-cheek fun that satisfies a 21st century crowd. This year’s cast has some of last year’s members and a couple new ones. Part of the fun is watching the same people perform various parts between the shows. That’s a lot of lines to remember.

The Opera House building is part of the show. Claudette and Tim Dringle who own the building and the company took on this labor of love about five years ago by repairing and refurbishing it. Even though it has been in operation since the 1800s when Philipsburg was a thriving mining town, it needed an overhaul. Still, the doors have never closed making this the oldest continuously operating theater in Montana. The backdrops used in the productions are the original, hand painted sets and several of the vaudeville acts are culled from the theater’s original collection. Selection depends on current tastes and what is considered politically correct–nothing offensive here.

I wish I could transport everyone I know here for a show since its survival depends on an audience and I certainly want to be able to continue getting my belly laugh fix every time I come to town.

The photo from the front is from the Opera House’s Web site. This is a past production, but you can see the back drops.