Heather Stricker was still a rookie the first time she played Christine opposite Armen Dirtadian’s Phantom of the Opera. The year was 2001 and it was The Gaslight Theatre's third run of Peter Van Slyke’s original comedy adaptation. Dirtadian had played in all of them, as had Joe Cooper, currently portraying a prat-falling Madame Giry. Cooper’s been with the company 31 years.
Dirtadian says reprising that first performance with Stricker is his favorite aspect of the production’s current run, which continues through Sunday, Nov. 5. It’s part of Gaslight’s fortieth anniversary season. “She was out of college at the time, trained in opera as a grad student,” Dirtadian says. “When she called me (for the current production) I jumped on it.”
Stricker now acts in every production and serves as the company’s public relations director. “This is really the best talent in Tucson,” she says. “We do so many shows here that it's a full-time job for a lot of us. The opening cast tends to be the same for each run, so anybody who comes to see every show will always see the same faces.”
Repeatable, long-running productions with multiple stagings each week enable the company to budget for cast continuity and production values that smaller, more risk-taking companies can only dream about. The costumers who create the Phantom’s lavish look operate a retail shop that provides another onsite profit center as does Little Anthony's Diner, which supplies the theater’s food service.
The profitability of its enviable business model may contribute to the Gaslight’s perennial wins in Tucson Weekly’s Best of Tucson, but people come for the fun. “This is something that non-theater people enjoy,” Stricker says. “You can see live music, live performers, comedy ….” She might add that it’s as family-friendly as a Disney movie. Actors take pains to engage the young ones at the front tables, especially throughout the olio after each show. It’s a short, unrelated variety entertainment played almost entirely for laughs.
Putting the Phantom in context, Dirtadian says, “It might be a little serious here at the Gaslight.” That’s like calling Mabel a tragic figure in Pirates of Penzance. But Stricker explains, “The fall shows are a little darker, so you're seeing a kind of spookier one for Halloween. They're still hilarious!”
Gaslight tickets are $20.95, less for children and veterans. Details are can be found online
. Tickets are available by phone or in person.