Adventures in Fun

Two Tucson theaters deliver it year-round

'Tis summer, the season for cinematic superheroes who flash fancy gadgets to protect the world from devastating forces. But there are a couple of theaters in town in which there are always superheroes saving the day. Damsels of one kind or another are in distress and there is always evil lurking, threatening to do the good guys in. But good always prevails, and the intention is that these shenanigans are all performed in an outrageous form of fun. And there is plenty of entertainment along the way because the story is supported by song and dance.

One of the theaters I'm referring to is the venerable Gaslight Theatre, of course, which for over 35 years has given us unapologetic, well done, goofy fun.

Now, up in Oro Valley, the Great American Playhouse wants to get in on the game. They've only been open for a couple of years, and although there is no official connection to the Gaslight, it almost eerily has quite a few things in common with it. Maybe that's because Nancy LaViola, GAP's executive director and choreographer, and Sean MacArthur, who writes and directs most of the scripts, provide GAP's leadership, and both of them worked for the Gaslight in times past.

Both theaters are getting ready to close one show and open another. So here's a heads up of what you might not want to miss, as well as what you might look forward to.

The Great American Playhouse concludes its run of Toy Tales: A Western Saga June 6. The story, according to their website, involves Rusty, the wooden sheriff of Javelina Springs, who has to deal with Stinky Pete the prospector and a villain potato—yes, potato—named One-Eyed Bart, as well as a new toy in town, Buck Universe, a ranger from space. If this reminds you of something, it should. It's a wild spin-off of the Pixar animated film Toy Story.

This spin-off or spoof thing is characteristic of both these theaters. Their in-house writers take a well-known film or story and revise it for their own comic purposes. The shows are inspired by stories we are familiar with, but the resulting adaptations become their own unique beasts.

Opening on June 11 and running through August 22 is The Amazings: Heroes of Tomorrow, which involves the world's "greatest crime-fighting superhero family" having to come out of retirement to deal with "a mysterious presence" which is trying to destroy the world. It probably won't be as fancy as those movies that are plastering the cineplexes, but chances are it might be just as entertaining.

The Gaslight Theatre has developed a huge fan base over its three-plus decades, and it has perfected the formula for fun for theater-goers of all ages. Currently, they are winding down their version of The Adventures of Robin Hood or It Sherwood be Fun. It closes June 7. As you can tell, they exhibit plenty of "pun"-ishment and corny jokes as they tell their twisted version of whatever story they are bent on telling. Peter Van Slyke has been responsible for the scripts and direction for years, and he knows what he's doing. Gaslight shows also have a terrific three-piece band to accompany them led by Linda Ackermann. Scenic designer Tom Benson is responsible for some very clever sets and effects.

Next up is Space Wars, which opens June 11, and surely you can guess the story it perverts into its own low-tech but still spectacular production. (In case you can't, we're pretty sure it's Star Wars.) But you can count on it being silly, slick in the Gaslight way, and very well done.

Both theaters offer menus of treats to eat. In fact, Grandma Tony's Pizza, an entire enterprise which has sprung from feeding the flocks seeking entertainment at Gaslight, was in 2013 voted the town's best pizza.

No question, the Gaslight is the more seasoned and established group, and although they might not have invented this style of theater, they have thoroughly perfected it. GAP is still finding its footing, but both groups exhibit talented actors and singers. We often talk about summer reading lists, which are usually on the lighter side. In the heat-heavy Tucson summer, it's always good to have something on the lighter side of theater fare available to enjoy. And these folks can provide it.

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