Opera House

Lagoon’s 300-seat Opera House opened in 1968 as part of the turn of the century era Opera House Square . Robert Hyde Wilson, a director and playwright who was teaching at the University Of Utah, was impresario of the Lagoon Opera House and helped found it with Robert & Peter Freed. This was not, however, the first collaboration between Robert Wilson and Robert Freed . In December 1938, Wilson and Freed opened The Playbox, a small theater at 610 East South Temple in Salt Lake City. Peter Freed once told the Deseret News, “The Opera House was Bob [Freed]’s idea. Our mother goes back to the old Salt Lake Theatre days. My brother had this idea for the Opera House, and he turned the whole thing over to me. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life. It was also Robert’s idea to get Wilson involved as director.” Wilson directed 32 plays at the Opera House over a period of 13 years, most (if not all) of which showcased University Of Utah students.

The Opera House opened on 30 May 1968 with a 19th century melodrama entitled Poor Of New York. The small venue became a popular place for theater on the Wasatch Front and generally featured three different productions for about a month at a time each season.

The Opera House during Frightmares, 2005.

At some time after Wilson retired in the early ’80s, Lagoon began leasing out the Opera House to outside production companies. In 1989, it was leased to JPB International Events for a toned-down version of Little Shop Of Horrors. It was directed by Salt Lake Acting Company founder Ed Gryska and the show’s producer, Jeffry Belnap, also produced shows for Disney theme parks, Knott’s Berry Farm and others¹. Despite pleased audiences, good reviews and the work of Belnap himself talking to crowds around the park and offering discounted tickets, the show closed two weeks early. As Belnap discussed the problem with Deseret News theater writer, Ivan M. Lincoln, he suggested that Lagoon might look into using the Opera House for the kind of musical revues that were popular in the Lagoon Music Theater. He later explained that groups like Bountiful Community Theater and the Hale Family “had moved into the city, so Lagoon was not the focus that it had been during the Wilson era”. In a recent email, Jeffry Belnap recalled, “It was very satisfying to hear from one of the Freed brothers say this show – Little Shop – was on par with the best ever produced there.”

The Opera House never reopened, even though the possibility of using it again has been mentioned from time to time². It has remained in use for things like auditions and employee orientations. In 2005, the lobby was used for the Madame Nitrous fortune teller attraction during Frightmares. Other than that, it has been closed to park guests since 1989.