Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Brigadoon Summer

| September 6, 2023 2:00 AM

“Come to Me, Bend to Me” is one of the beautiful, romantic songs from the 1940s musical, Brigadoon. I know it well for I sang it in the Many Glacier Hotel production of said musical in the mid 1960s.

I sang it reluctantly for I did not come to Glacier to be bothered by the stress and strain of after-work rehearsing and performing in a summer musical production. Instead I came to the Park to get out of another hot summer in Oklahoma and to have fun. If I was going to be up late after work and sing it would be at a late night powwow and campfire. However, things have a way of turning out differently than one plans for and eventually I got to do all three.

My summer job was as a busboy at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn restaurant located a mile up the road from the Many Glacier Hotel, which billed itself as the Showplace of the Rockies. This self-proclaimed moniker came about primarily because it was gorgeous and also because its employees put on a nightly array of musical events, culminating in the end of season musical.

The man behind all of this music was the hotel manager Ian B. Tippet. He was an old school hotelier and a self proclaimed musical impresario. In addition to running the hotel he felt it was his duty of entertain the guests and he did so splendidly.

He hired his employees as much for their musical talent as he did for their work ethics. Although I did not work at Many Glacier I felt I got my lowly busboy position partially because I could sing and might somehow be useful to him musically some day.

Eventually his instinct as to my abilities and usefulness with my voice bore fruit, but it took an unforeseen event to make it come about. If Many Glacier Hotel is the big leagues, then Swiftcurrent in those days was at best a double A farm team. Many was a grand hotel, and Swiftcurrent was a motel and cabins…and I loved it. Its employees were a breed apart and much rougher around the edges than those of the Many Glacier Hotel. I fit right in.

When the production of Brigadoon was announced and a call for auditions came forth I said no way was I getting involved in something like that. I had just finished being in a college production of Annie Get Your Gun and performing in several recitals and I was tired and just wanted to enjoy the summer and have a good time. My roommate, who could also sing, auditioned to sing in the chorus, got accepted and gave me hell for not doing so.

I stood my ground and said no dice. I was here for fun. Well, a few weeks later fate intervened, as it sometimes does. After awhile the ham in me started to feel a little guilty and I began to regret my decision to not enter the fray.

As it turns out fate indeed interceded. It seems that one of the leads in the production had the misfortune to injure himself seriously while hiking off-trail and got sent back home. There was an immediate opening and would I be interested in taking the part, assuming I was any good … well, I was and I did.

So I became Charles Dalrymple, a secondary love lead and would get to sing, “Come to Me, Bend to Me Now,” as well as “I’ll go Home with Bonnie Jean.” Brigadoon is a musical about a mystical Scottish town that comes to life once a century and never truly ages. In plot it is somewhat similar to the book and movie, Lost Horizon. The story revolves around Two American tourists who stumble upon it, fall in love with two of the inhabitants, and have a truly once in a lifetime mystical experience. It was the perfect metaphor for my first summer in Glacier. I knew of the musical and was familiar with some of the more popular songs. Well, for the next month my roommate and I sallied forth nightly after work down to Many Glacier Hotel and back on his Vespa scooter for rehearsals singing Brigadoon songs all the way. Since it was late at night and pitch black when we returned the only thing keeping the bears at bay was our singing! The day of the first production I hiked all the way to Ptarmigan tunnel and back, showered, and got ready hit the boards, as they say. As I started walking down the road to the hotel I heard the sound of bagpipes being played in the Many Glacier campground. This was very strange to say the least, but doubly strange, as Brigadoon is set in Scotland, the land of bagpipes. I took it as an omen of good tidings and to this day I have never forgotten them. Well, the production went off well and everyone had a good time being in it, and the audience loved it as well. I was glad that I did it after all. The next year I was also in the production of Carousel, but only as a member of the chorus. It was nothing like my time in Brigadoon. Brigadoon in 1963 was one of the first to be produced at Many Glacier Hotel and its production was a simple one. As the ‘60s rolled into the ‘70s and into the ‘80s the productions became more elaborate, with the final musical produced in 1983. There was even a revival production of Brigadoon in, I believe 1981, but I was not in the Park to see it. I am sure it was good and a lot more polished than the Brigadoon of 1963, but I will just have to be content with the memories of my own Brigadoon summer.

Chris Ashby

East Glacier