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If Nikki Spies seems a little out of her element when she takes the stage at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse this weekend, there's good reason. First, there's the fact that, in her Bigfork debut, she's supposed to portray some of the most recognizable celebrity entertainers in modern history, including the likes of Barbra Streisand and Chita Rivera.

And then there's the fact that, before last week, Spies had never seen snow firsthand.

"It's so pretty, it's just amazing," marveled Spies, a sophomore acting student from Jacksonville University in Florida. "I love that the backdrop of everything is a mountain with the snow on it. I saw snowflakes falling the other day and it made me want to sing ‘The Sound of Music.' "

"The Sound of Music" is one of the few things that Spies won't be doing in the next few months. But as a company member at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, she'll have plenty of singing, dancing and acting to do before she returns to Florida in September.

Starting Friday night, it's "Forbidden Broadway," a four-actor musical revue show in which the most famous tunes and performers of Broadway are lampooned.

Then, in early June, comes "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," a hit Broadway musical written in 2004, based on the popular film of the same name.

After that: "Fiddler on the Roof," "Tom Foolery," "Sugar Babies" and "All Shook Up."

"I came here to build up my resume and get a lot of stage experience," said Spies, "so I was glad this would let me do that."

So it goes for the young actors who come every summer to Montana from across the country to participate in Bigfork's summer season of theatre. Now entering its 50th year, the Bigfork Summer Playhouse is the oldest professional theatre company in the northern Rockies - by a margin of decades.

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It's one of only a few theatre companies in the nation that can honestly claim cornerstone status in a community: Before the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, the thriving, funky little lakeside resort town that we know today as Bigfork pretty much didn't exist.

It's a company built equally on the youthful enthusiasm of each summer's new crop of actors, and the dedication of old hands who can't ever seem to get enough.

"It's one of my favorite places to be," said Dwayne Ague, stage manager at the playhouse for the past half-decade and a regular fixture with the company for some three decades now. "As long as they let me come back, I will."

Though somewhat younger than Ague, Brach Thomson has an even deeper history with the company. The son of Don and Jude Thomson, producers at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse for the past 47 years, Brach first took the stage at the age of 8 in the company's production of "The Music Man."

He's been involved pretty much ever since.

"It's great to be able to focus on shows that are fun, that audiences will want to see, and that give the actors and musicians a variety of challenges," said Brach Thomson, who founded the Bigfork Playhouse Children's Theatre, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this coming autumn.

"Once we get the summer season rolling, we try to have four shows in constant rotation, so that someone can come and see four different shows in four nights. Doing it that way, it's good for us for business, it's good for these kids for their resumes, and it's good for the audience who gets to see a lot of things."

Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358, jnickell@missoulian.com or on NickellBag.com.

 

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