Bigfork Children's Theatre cancels "Lion King Jr." after crew, cast test positive for COVID-19

by MACKENZIE REISS
Bigfork Eagle | September 23, 2020 3:00 AM

The Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre has canceled their production of Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.” due to two confirmed cases of coronavirus among the cast and crew. The play was scheduled to premiere Sept. 25 and run on select dates through Oct. 4. One staff member and one cast member tested positive for COVID-19, BPCT artistic director and producer Brach Thomson confirmed Thursday, Sept. 17.

“The kids really did a good job with their masks and social distancing, but we just knew this was a possibility,” stated a post announcing the cancellation on social media.

Thomson said the theater did everything they could to keep the virus at bay -- taking temperatures of cast and crew members daily, requiring face shields during rehearsal and masks as soon as actors were off stage.

“I talked quite a bit with the health department. She said you're following all the right steps,” Thomson told the Eagle. “We thought we were playing by all the rules.”

Cases in school-aged children have been popping up throughout the valley ever since classes resume for the fall, including two cases within Bigfork School District 38.

On Monday Sept. 14 the playhouse crew member received notification of a positive test. The actor stayed home after experiencing feverish symptoms and tested positive the following day.

“Those poor kids, too,” Thomson lamented. “In their minds, they broke the show. No, no, no -- it’s the situation. It’s so hard on a young kid like that to convince him that it’s not your fault.”

The Flathead City-County Health Department is in the process of talking to close contacts of both individuals who contracted the virus.

Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.” was the first play of the children’s theater’s 2020 season and Thomson said he was proud of how far the participants had come. However, he noted it was tough for everyone involved not to see the final product of their efforts come to fruition.

“They were starting to really gel. The show was just coming together,” he said. “That part’s unfortunate but we’re definitely proud of what the kids have done so far.”

He hopes to produce the show in 2021, provided DIsney will allow the theater to carry over the rights to the play. Typical royalties run $300-500 per show, Thomson explained, plus the cost of accompaniment music and scripts. For the time being, their costume rental provider has permitted the theater to hold onto the “Lion King Jr.” wardrobe.

“I think 2021 is the answer,” Thomson said.

WIth this year being the 20th anniversary of the children’s theater, Thomson was hoping for a celebratory season, but the coronavirus threw a wrench in their plans from the beginning. In early September, Thomson came down with the virus, forcing him to remain remote and depend on leadership from parents and other crew members to keep the production afloat. He was virus free as of last week, but is still recovering from COVID-19, which he said was “the most miserable thing ever.”

“The worst part is that fever, the fever that brought on nausea. You hurt and you want to throw up but you don't really have to. It really was bad, there were days you just wanted to die,” Thomson said. “I’ve been five days fever free. They released me the other day.

I'm really only at 80%. It really kicked my butt. I'm doing everything I can to get back into the swing of things.”

Looking ahead, Thomson is turning his focus to a special production to be held in honor of BPCT’s 20th anniversary, the Best of Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre. He is planning to select some of the best songs in the theater’s history to recreate on stage, scheduled for Nov. 14. Other upcoming shows scheduled for the 2020-21 season include “Elf: The Musical,” “Aladdin Jr.” and “Cowabunga.”