You will not believe this, but the current show at the Gaslight Theatre is a jaw-dropping departure for the eastside melodrama house.
Instead of free popcorn at every table, there's free beer. The nuanced original script, an Ibsen spoof, is laced with cutting political commentary. The main character is a towering drag queen with a potty mouth. Nudity happens.
But a guy can dream, can't he?
The Gaslight Theatre, never fear, is precisely the same as it ever was, and countless Tucsonans and tourists, from toddlers to great-great-grandfathers, will tell you that's just how they like it, thank you very much.
And so, yes, I'm here to tell you that after 36 years, Tony Terry's entertainment formula—cardboard heroes and villains, G-rated cornball humor, silly sight gags, groan-worthy puns, loosey-goosey songs, superfriendly servers and staff, great Grandma Tony's pizza (not free), a crazy good pianist and a slew of birthday and anniversary shoutouts and sing-alongs—is alive and well.
My mom joined me on a recent Friday night for Beach Blanket Bee-Bop, a generically pleasing thingie that you've seen before even if you've never seen it. As usual, the place was packed. I saw a single empty seat, which was my fault because my stepdad bailed at the last minute.
Written and directed by Gaslight mainstay Peter Van Slyke, it's a stitched-together collection of words like cowabunga and silly snippets of '60s tunes, sung by caricatures named Moose (Todd Thompson, speaking of stitches), Moondoggie (Jake Chapman), Lunkhead (Charlie Hall), Miss Cliffhausen (Heather Stricker) and Woody Longboard (David Orley, still at it after all these years).
The story begins at a beachside amusement park with a Cyclone-style roller coaster that's on the fritz. Joe Cooper, a veteran of innumerable Gaslight shows, plays a mean wannabe 1-percenter with an evil plan to buy up what he doesn't already own in Surf City.
You'll also see a drag race, a night at the drive-in movie theater and the administering of more than one wedgie. The actors make faces and wiggle their hands whenever they say "Sabotage!"
Will the sweet Barbara Ann (Katy Bulkley) get to see Moondoggie win the big surf competition or will the title of Numero Uno on the Beach-o go to the muscle-bound bully? Will the nerdy Francine (Tarreyn Van Slyke) find lasting love with Melvin (Mike Yarema), an even bigger nerd?
The most uproarious moments, by far, occur after Melvin drinks a love potion (No. 9, I believe it was) and turns into the hip-swiveling Melvis.
Beach Blanket Bee-Bop, which will be knocking 'em dead in broad steamroller style through June 8, is the first show I've seen at the Gaslight since last century when, for a time, I reviewed each and every one. It sends chills down my spine recalling how I tried to write something different when confronted with the same.
The post-show olio, often a pleasing change of pace that showcases the singing talents of the cast, is a cheesy disco inferno this time around. We're talking bad wigs, outlandish costumes and energetic renditions of songs by ABBA, the Bee Gees and Kool & the Gang. Darth Vader makes an appearance. So does Disco Duck.
If you're thinking you're too cool to boogie
Boy oh boy have I got news for youEverybody here tonight must boogie
Let me tell ya' you are no exception to the rule
A variation of the "Boogie Oogie Oogie" rule always applies at the Gaslight, a feel-good place where everybody must laugh. What the hell else are you gonna do?