History, with a side of show, with Porchlight Players Tabor Opera House benefit
The Tabor Opera House was built in an era when silver barons ruled and legendary performers such as Oscar Wilde, Buffalo Bill and Harry Houdini actually basked in the stage’s limelight.
But this coming weekend — Saturday, Aug. 25, and Sunday, Aug. 26 — The Porchlight Players, the community theater troop that hails from the downvalley communities of Eagle and Gypsum will be treading the boards where some of the most famed thespians in American history performed. The Porchlight Players will stage ‘‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” as a benefit for the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation.
“This is a great cause and we’d like to help them boost ticket sales from people in our valley,” said Porchlight Players President Ann Olin.
“This all started when I took a tour of the opera house last summer,” Olin said.
Slice of Colorado history
Since 1880s the Tabor has been an anchor of Leadville’s historic Harrison Avenue.
According to the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation’s website, the structure was built in 1879 by Horace Austin Warner Tabor, one of Colorado’s famed mining magnates. It was one of the most costly and most substantially-built structures in Colorado history. The construction materials used to build the Tabor Opera House were not available in Leadville, so Tabor ordered that they be brought up by wagons, a tedious task. The Tabor was completed in only 100 days from the date of ground-breaking, which was a record time.
The three-story building included two retail stores on the first floor, an elegant theater on the second floor, and a third floor that connected to the adjacent Clarendon Hotel via passageway. The ornate interior boasted 72 gas jets (the first gas lights to illuminate Leadville), richly painted walls and ceiling frescoes, custom carpets and hand-painted stage curtains.
But with the 1893 repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, the silver boom was over as was the heyday of the Tabor Opera House. The Leadville Elks eventually became the building owner, but the club placed the opera house on the market in 1954. Leadville businesswoman Evelyn Furman, described as having “an eye for restoration of past treasures and a pioneer spirit that believed she could accomplish anything” purchased the structure. The Furman family owned the structure for the next 59 years. Evelyn personally ran the opera house until 84 years of age, then turned the controls to her daughter Sharon Furman Bland and her husband, Bill.
In late 2016, the Tabor Opera House transitioned from private to public ownership when the city of Leadville purchased the building from the Bland family for $600,000, money raised entirely through grants. The Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) founded in 2003 to assist the previous owners in caring for the historic building, was reorganized and its mission expanded to raise funds for rehabilitation and operation of the building on behalf of the Leadville and Lake County community.
Last summer the foundation launched its inaugural season offering ballet, opera, Broadway, blues, jazz, rock, homegrown community theater and the Colorado Songwriter Showcase. Beginning in 2017, the foundation also opened the entire building for tours, which brings us back to Olin’s story.
As she toured the Tabor in the summer of 2017, Olin was struck by the beauty and lineage of the structure. She asked her guide what it took for a theater troupe to stage a show at the venue. This weekends performances are the result of that inquiry
“Everything about the Tabor is interesting and historic,” Olin said. “The story goes that Houdini needed a trap door for one of this performances so he got out a saw and cut one in the stage. I don’t know it that is true or not, but it is a great story.”
She noted during the tour, visitors get a chance to see the green room and dressing room areas underneath the stage.
I swear there has to be ghosts down there,” Olin said. One of the rooms is functional, another is staged with 1880s period pieces.
“Paying $20 to go to our show is worth it just to sit in the theater, in my opinion,” she said.
The $20 ticket price does include more than a historic evening. The show “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is a musical revue featuring 12 members of the Porchlight Players.
The show is described as “a celebration of the truths and myths behind that contemporary conundrum know as ‘the relationship.’ From dating, love and marriage to the agonies and triumphs of in-laws and newborns, trips in the family car and pick-up techniques of the geriatric set, the revue pays tribute to those who have loved and lost, who have fallen on their face at the portal of romance, and who have dared to ask, ‘Say, what are you doing Saturday night?’”
Olin promises a fun show in an incomparable venue.
“Just think, Teddy Roosevelt once sat in those theater seats,” she said.