Schoolhouse Rock

By Beacon Staff

The late Walt Disney never made the mistake of believing that children’s entertainment is only to entertain children. Neither does Brach Thomson.

I spent an hour the other day with Brach, originator, founder, director and chief musician for the Bigfork Children’s Theater. Anyone who has met Brach knows him to be warm, talented and skilled at controlling the massive enthusiasm that drives his life and much of the entertainment scene in Bigfork. So, even though the conversation was casual, I couldn’t help but feel my excitement build as I heard about Brach and the Thomsons, and realized the influence that he and the family have on entertainment in the valley.

Most Bigfork residents know of Brach’s musical talents, at least as he presents them here. But fewer know that he spent 15 years in Reno serving, at one time or another, as music director for each of the nine music theaters in that town. Folks more of my era will recognize some of the talents he played with, namely Toni Tennille, Ann-Margret and Charo (just to name a few). But that was more than a dozen years ago when he decided that the charms of Bigfork were more appealing than the excitement of Reno. Did Don or Jude Thomson influence his decision? As Brach tells it, Don’s advice on Brach’s interest in becoming involved in the family business, the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, was something akin to, “What? Are you crazy son?”

Pencils wear down documenting Brach: the eight to 12 theater workshops he does annually, the five musicals he does every year with the Children’s Theater, the three children’s choruses he directs, his jazz band, the five Summer Playhouse shows where he serves as music director. Or how his days routinely start at six in the morning and continue until 10 or 11 at night. Or how, although he rarely has time to eat or sleep, he says he’s having the time of his life. But to carry on in that vein would miss the fact that, as I write this, I’ve just returned from taking photos at a dress rehearsal of his new production, “Schoolhouse Rock,” and everything I’ve learned about Brach, the person, pales in comparison to what I’ve seen of Brach, the director and producer.

I remember his comment that adults tend to look down their noses at children’s theater. Like it’s something you don’t go to unless you have a kid in it. Well, I don’t have a kid in the production, but I found myself so enthralled at the rehearsal that I had to repeatedly remind myself that I was there to take pictures, not to enjoy the show. And frankly, the photography was a piece of cake. When you have talented actors (note I said actors, not children) deeply in character, portraying personalities larger than their nearly full-sized frames, it doesn’t take a massive talent to point the lens and release the shutter.

And those voices. I’ve been known to sing in the shower and other venues where the audiences were both captive and docile. But these voices – Olivia Witt, Emma Christensen, Camas Garnet, Tabitha May, Eli Brown, and more. Yes, I know we’re talking Electric Avenue here and not Broadway. But as you watch, listen, and experience, you realize that, whatever difference there is, it’s not important.

OK, I should probably disclose that “Schoolhouse Rock” is written for a primary audience of, well, primary grades. But I remember borrowing a kid so I could comfortably watch the likes of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Little Mermaid.” I no longer have a kid to borrow, but I’m going to be at the Thomson Theater for the show’s one-weekend run to watch the rest of Schoolhouse Rock.

And I’m not afraid to admit it.

Schoolhouse Rock plays to the public for just one weekend, concluding an eight-school tour. At the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts, shows are April 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m. and April 28 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7-$11 and are available at the door. But come early; they might sell out.

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