Peter Pan - Cache

Michael Ballam, performing as Captain Hook, acts during a scene of Peter Pan at the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre.

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The coronavirus pandemic has toppled another major cultural event in Cache Valley. The Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre on Wednesday announced suspension of its 2020 summer season.

The theater company, which puts on five to six rotating productions at Logan’s Eccles Theatre each summer, had been cautiously optimistic about going ahead with its season, but an announcement posted on the UFOMT website put all the suspense to an end.

“While we have been working diligently toward keeping our plans in place, we have been monitoring guidelines from health and government officials,” the statement read. “After receiving the COVID safety timeline from Utah Governor Gary Herbert and conversations with our health department, it is abundantly clear that even with the best laid plans for social distancing, quarantine, and sanitizing, it will be impossible to guarantee the safety of our company members as well as our patrons during this pandemic.”

UFOMT’s final decision was anxiously anticipated by Cache Valley’s summer citizens, some of whom were basing their decisions on whether or not to make the annual trip from Arizona on the fate of the theater season. Already canceled was Utah State University’s comprehensive program for summer seniors, the Lyric Theatre season and the annual Logan Tabernacle Concert Series.

In a video message accompanying Wednesday’s announcement, opera founder Michael Ballam addressed seniors directly.

“I love it when you all come to Logan. The town is better, there is more vibrancy when you are here and you make Logan a better place,” he said. “Yes, the decision has been hard, but the choice has been easy because we place you above anything else.”

Seated at a piano, Ballam went on to provide a more personal perspective, recounting his introduction to performance arts as a child and singing two songs he said reflect his feelings about current circumstances.

“The world’s a crazy place, and we as human beings kind of mess things up as they are moving down the tracks they are supposed to be going on,” Ballam said. “But that which is noble and virtuous and lovely and of good report will always keep going no matter how much we try to mess things up. Nobody said it better than Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern, so I’d like to leave you with their thoughts that things that are good and noble just keep moving along.”

At this point in the video, Ballam breaks into a rendition of the song “Old Man River” from the 1927 Hammerstein-Kern musical “Show Boat.”

“And we’ll keep rolling along, thanks to you,” he concludes, addressing patrons directly. “We need your help more than ever before. Any exercise of generosity you can send our way will be greatly appreciated. The bottom line is, we look forward to seeing you again at the theater.”

UFOMT employs close to 300 singers, actors, musicians and support staff, many of whom come from afar each summer to work through the season.

Before the USU cancellation, upwards of 1,000 summer seniors were expected to be in Logan. How many will still come remains to be seen.

“I’m very disappointed at the cancellation of the Utah Festival Theatre both from a tourism perspective and from a personal perspective,” Cache Valley Visitors Bureau Director Julie Hollist Terrill said. “I love the shows, I love the quality of production that Utah Festival brings, and it is one of our largest tourism draws in Cache Valley.”

Hollist Terrill noted this is almost the final pillar to fall in Logan’s summer entertainment season, which her office uses as a marketing theme, billing the valley to visitors as “The Heart of the Arts.”

“It will sadly be a large economic impact, and this is another instance where I think local residents and government leaders do not recognize the importance of tourism and the impact of these massive events,” she said. “They’re going to find out this year, and hopefully we’ll all see the ways our communities benefit by the money that is left behind by visitors, even if we don’t participate in those events personally.”

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.

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