Mount Baker Theatre (MBT) has been bringing entertainment from around the world to Bellingham (and the entire Bellingham region) since 1927. So it’s fitting their theme for the 2019-2020 is “Elevate Your Everyday” on Mount Baker Theatre’s “Towering Peak of Entertainment.” That is an understatement when you consider the historic building and world-class, culturally-diverse live theater, dance, celebrity, and music performances that come to beautiful Bellingham from across the globe. I took a tour of this architectural gem with Executive Director Brad Burdick to learn more about the powerhouse of Bellingham’s downtown arts district and its impressive list of upcoming shows.
Preserving History and Entertaining Ghosts
More than 90 years ago, MBT was a luxurious movie palace built with an exotic Spanish Moorish design meant to transport its small town patrons to another time and place. Sadly, it is the only survivor of five built in the Bellingham-area at the time. In 1978 the building was placed on the National Historical Record and in 1984 the community rallied and saved it from demolition by developing a partnership between the City, County, and the community. Since then MBT has operated as a city-owned facility managed by the Mount Baker Theatre Corporation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Over $14 million in capital improvements have transformed this living machine. The theater’s interior is breath-taking and its exterior iconic. My tour took us to the heights of the balcony, the depths of the orchestra pit, and behind the curtain that hides the modern and historic secrets of how the magic is made. But my description can’t do it justice. Take a look at the 2019-2020 season and book your tickets today.
But tours aren’t for the easily scared because rumor has it that the theater is haunted by a friendly ghost named Judy, along with other spirits. Although some sightings have been correlated with consumption of adult beverages, others have gone unexplained. A safe in a former office turned storage room was mysteriously closed and no one knew the combination. After many, many years the room was being cleaned for renovation and the safe was suddenly discovered open!
Burdick also mentioned another tour he gave to a couple of individuals sensitive to paranormal activity. They both reported seeing a large black spirit of a big cat at the bottom of the stairs back stage, near the door that leads to the fan room for the Wurlitzer pipe organ (one of the top organs in the U.S. according to organist Dennis James). Later research discovered that in the late 1930s, a traveling circus had performed at the theater and a black panther had died in the room. They asserted that animals don’t appear as ghosts, but as energy residues that jump out when encountered.
Get a Lift and Elevate Your Everyday Exploring the 2019-2020 Season
Its evident that MBT’s employees work hard to bring the best in local, national, and international live entertainment to Bellingham. In addition to keeping the building’s history alive, their mission is to provide access to diverse performing arts and entertainment that enriches and educates the community. To achieve their goals MBT has developed a towering peak of entertainment full of culturally-diverse performances for you to explore.
The 2019-2020 season has a lot to offer. More than 25 extraordinary events are coming to the theatre that tour all over the world before stopping here. Using a skiing analogy, MBT breaks these events into three ”runs” or categories for your delight.
Green Diamond Runs: Shows to See Together
Green Diamond Runs are shows that are perfect to see as a celebration with family and friends. These shows celebrate the classics and incorporate song, dance and action to keep even the very young engaged.
A Christmas Carol
Animal lovers won’t want to miss the return of Stunt Dog Experience with two shows on March 14. For less than it costs for the movies, these canine stars soar, spin, jump, and fly into your heart. This high-energy, interactive show features dogs who love their work and their trainers. Chris Perondi and his crew work tirelessly to put animals and humans together for uplifting fun.
Just four days later, on March 18, you can get a lift with Catapult. An America’s Got Talent Finalist, this magical production features world-class dancer-athletes who work behind the screen to create shadow silhouettes of shapes from the world around us. Their bodies transform into a mountain, an elephant, a dragon and even a helicopter. You’ll be mesmerized trying to figure out how they did it. Packed with hundreds of shape transformations, comedy, music and engaging stories for all ages.
Dance Theatre of Harlem celebrating their 50th anniversary, will help round out the season on May 16.
Blue Diamond Runs: Live Music on Tour
I’m a music lover. I like what I like and I don’t stick to any single genre. So I love the range of musicians MBT has this season. This season the following are all coming to town:
- Diana Krall, Grammy-winning Jazz, September 15
- Jake Shimabukuro, Jimmy Hendrix of ukulele, multi-genre, October 12
- Take Me to the River Live, New Orleans funk, R&B, soul & jazz, October 19
- Jesse Cook, Flemenco guitar, November 23
- Sweet Honey in the Rock, a cappella soul, R&B and gospel, January 17
- The Gatlin Brothers, country, February 15
- Steep Canyon Rangers, Grammy-winning sextet, bluegrass and folk, April 2
- Chris Botti, multi-genre trumpet, May 3
- The Wailin’ Jennys, Americana folk-pop, May 9
Red Diamond Runs: Night Out
These shows are each a sizzling night out on the town. Choose your escape from among extravagantly staged theatre, dance, spectacle and comedy that will leave you with life-long memories.
On September 23 experience Broadway here in Bellingham with the 20th Anniversary production of Pulitzer-Prize and Tony-Award-winning Rent.
Or if you prefer the classics, many of your favorite Gerschwin tunes fill four-time Tony-Award-winning An American in Paris on January 19th.
An American in Pairs
Celebrate the breadth of Ray Charles’ catalogue of music on February 7 at Georgia on My Mind. An all star show led by Emmy-winner Clint Holmes, Grammy-winners Take 6 and Tom Scott and the inredible Nnenna Freelon honor Charles’ blues, R&B, rock n’ roll, jazz and gospel classics.
Incorporating classical, jazz, pop and opera, Pink Martini with China Forbes returns to MBT April 10. They’ve been touring around the world for 25 years, singing in 22 languages.
Laughter is good medicine and MBT has the right medicine for you. Ladies of Laughter on March 7 and Menopause the Musical on April 25 are perfect for a girls night out but men will also hear their wives, daughters, girlfriends and sisters in these hilarious shows. Ladies is a collection of three award- winning stand-up comedians. Julia Scotti has been called a cross between Sam Kinison and Mrs. Doubtfire. New-York-based stand-up comic Jocelyn Chia is originally from Asia and combines cross-cultural observations and her past as a lawyer. Let the lawyer jokes begin. Karen Rontowski’s optimistic nature is blended with her life as a paranormal investigator. You can expect plenty of adult humor and language.
The season aptly closes with comedy powerhouse David Sedaris on May 18. Also adult in language and humor, if you haven’t heard of Sedaris you are missing out. The New York Times best-selling essayist also won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album. His sardonic wit observes hilarious social situations from his own unique, yet relatable, angle. Get your tickets early as this one will likely sell out.
Through Mount Baker Theatre events, we get to experience other cultures, locations, and points of view and glimpse what it takes to be famous. Get your tickets early as some sell out and for best seats. I’m told that approximately 40% of attendees live outside Whatcom County. Many combine their attendance with forays into our beautiful outdoors to make one glorious vacation. I feel pretty fortunate to have right here in my own back yard what others see as their ideal escape.