Gold Hill Theater Troupe brings "Eilley" back to Bowers Mansion

About 200 people gathered on the lawn in front of Bowers Mansion in Washoe Valley Sunday for a box lunch social and performance of the musical "Eilley" by the Gold Hill Theater Troupe.

Folks sat in folding chairs between the fountain and the stage. Others ate green grapes while seated barefoot on blankets in the sun.

"Eilley's come back home," said Leslie Stevens who portrays Eilley Orrum in the musical. "She was put to rest 100 years ago -- her spirit's still here, and we're bringing her back."

Eilley Orrum and Sandy Bowers paid $200,000 for the construction of the mansion in 1863. They made their money with adjoining 10-foot claims in a Gold Hill silver mine. After the mine went bust and Bowers died, Eilley wound up using the mansion for boarders. She died at house for the poor in Oakland.

Gold Hill Theater Troupe has been performing the first act of the two-act play on Wednesday nights at Nevada's oldest hotel -- the Gold Hill Hotel.

"Not everyone can come up at night to the Gold Hill Hotel so here we are during the day," said the writer and director of the musical, Michael Schon.

He wrote the musical more than 40 years ago, he said. He and his ex-wife, Evangaline Tanner, came up with the idea while researching the boom and bust of Washoe Valley.

"I thought, 'This is just incredible -- the history of Bowers Mansion. Such a tragic story,'" said Schon.

Tanner wrote the lyrics, and Bonnie Randall wrote the music.

"It's original," said Schon. "All of it. Every bit."

The troupe will perform the piece in its entirety for the first time at Piper's Opera House in Virginia City in late August or early September.

Schon, who swam at the mansion as a child, said the musical was inspired by actual events, but it's not intended to be a history lesson.

"Not all of it is 100 percent accurate," he said. "(Nevada state archivist) Guy Rocha will probably blast us for some of it -- but it plays."

The musical's first act tells the story of Eilley Orrum running the boarding house for miners. They are frustrated by a blue mud, which, when the report from a Sacramento assayer comes back, turns out to be high-grade silver. Eilley and Orrum marry to consolidate their shares in the mine.

During the performance Sunday, arranger Chuck Wayne set the scene by playing rag-time piano.

The cast is considering taking its show to Eureka, Winnemucca, Yerington and Genoa.


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