A Fair Sheik

You’ll definitely get your money’s worth at the entertainment-packed production of Rise of the Sheik at Gaslight Theatre

Only at the Gaslight Theatre would you be willing to pay (though not a whole lot) to hear grown adult humans clad in extravagant Lawrence of Arabia style clothing (sheik-chic, I guess) perform with absolutely no shame the theme song of a show called The Rise of the Sheik. That song goes something like, "Sheik-sheik-sheik, sheik-sheik-sheik, sheik your booty; sheik your booty."

This is no hoity-toity off-Broadway angst fest where you view the stage through opera glasses with your pinky extended. It's more like a very well managed free-for-all, with original scripts that are usually take-offs on a movie or other familiar tale. Here you'll find the good guys and the bad guys duking it out, all with tongues planted firmly in cheeks. The audience boos and hisses and cheers and throws popcorn, which comes free on every table. There are so many corny jokes that the audience's groans almost drown out a three-piece live band. The band wins out, though, providing a dimension of entertainment that would otherwise leave the actors and their thin plotlines and silly jokes exposed. Instead, they work together to please crowds, alongside the kitchen's well loved pizza and more.

So, in this installment at Gaslight, evil Wazir (David Orley) and his sidekick Sharif Yerbouti (Eric Du) want to get their hands on the power of the Sheikdom, and there's a cadre of dastardly but dumb playmates who wouldn't know sheik from Shinola to help him get his way. Meanwhile the dude who is supposed to be the sheik, Kalif Ali Ben Hassan (Jake Chapman), is somewhere in the desert over by the Sphinx (or a reasonable facsimile) and realizes he'd better get after his destiny. He has a friend to help him, Kamir (Mike Yarema), whose harem pants' waist is hitched so high that he looks like he's wearing a push-up bra. The women involved—Janee Page, Erin Thompson, and Heather Stricker—are either pretty or evil (and sometimes both). There are scimitar fights and imprisonment in places like the "Cell of Endless Lamentation" and the "Impenetrable Cage of Steel." The good guy's riding a white horse, the bad guy's riding a black horse and the dumb guy's riding camels and a burro. After about three minutes of dialogue, the characters break into song. This pattern is repeated throughout the show. And these guys are darn good singers, too.

Now, in the hands of some not so capable theater folk, this whole concept could really be a stinky mess, but the Gaslight folks have got game. They are talented and skilled, and I'm not just talking about the actors. Peter Van Slyke pens the shows and directs them. Tom Benson's scenic design works with lighting directors David Darland and Michael Mueller to make sure the scenes evoke the nature of what's going on. Rene Cloutier's costumes are elaborate creations. And that band? Linda Ackermann leads the group while tickling the ivories with such passion that you'd expect them to cry "uncle." She is joined by Mitzi Cowell on bass and Adam Ackermann on drums.

After all this sheik stuff gets straightened out and the curtain comes down on this show, it comes up for another. The Gaslight crew are definitely not stingy with the entertainment. They deliver even more in what they call an olio, which is like a variety show and unrelated to the Sheik story. This one is called Dirty Dancing, and it features (surprise) dancing as well as singing. Jacob Brown and the cast do a very funny version of "Let's Dance." Stricker wanders through the audience singing "You Don't Own Me," giving a few men in the audience a chance to turn red. The whole cast tackles the mambo, and Yarema gets a chance to show off his skill with the harmonica. In the end, you would never question the group's sincerity when they sing "I've Had the Time of My Life."

Truth be told, these shows often are the best part of the evening, because there's a departure from the pattern of good guys versus bad guys guaranteed to be the heart of the evening's entertainment.

It's all great fun, though, and you get a lot of bang for your price of admission buck.

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