Laughing Gas

Gaslight continues to deliver hilarity in latest production that takes on Harry Potter

It was only a matter of time.

As surely as there was a young boy with a strange tattoo on his forehead destined to become a wizard—and in the process rounded up millions of fans of all ages, making his creator, J.K. Rowling, a billionaire and the Harry Potter brand over 15 billion—it was just as surely foreordained that the goofy, good-natured gang at the Gaslight Theatre would grab the story and work its own magic thereupon.

With a bit of a twist, of course. Thus was born Henry Porter and the Sorcerers's Secret, a brand- spanking new show written and directed by Peter Van Slyke, the crazed but clever creator of most of the shows in the Gaslight's repertory.

As one might expect, the aforementioned twist is rooted deeply in the usual shenanigans of the Gaslight gang, which include bizarro interpretations of characters we might recognize from the original, and whose names are vaguely familiar, but often inspire a bit more humor than Rowling's' silly names, if you can imagine that. But listen closely: they provide telling clues.

Do I really need to give a summary of the action here? Even if you have not partaken of the multi-volume Rowling's' romp, you won't have any trouble getting the drift. There's all kinds of stuff to set the whole thing up, including a Moses-in-the Bulrushes-like scene that takes place in the audience, which gives us a bit of pertinent background: Henry is a special babe. Surprise! But he gets tucked away in a hostile household until he is sprung with the help of some magic goings-on, and is guided to the famous Frogwaits (get it?) School of Sorcery, where he makes friends and enemies. And that would include the evil Zlandagore (Sounds like? You got it.) Of course, there's a lot at stake—exactly what, you will easily figure out. But there's something here that those beloved books don't have: singing and dancing; good guys and bad guys, huge things at stake, hissing and booing, and song and dance and free popcorn—ah, this is the Gaslight we know and love.

And honestly, these guys are the real deal. They are skilled singers and actors (and a few have a genuine feel for dance.) And, because most of them have performed at Gaslight for a while, they can definitely work an audience. The show is double (and sometimes) triple cast, so I might have seen one performer in a role and you might see another. I was witness to Todd Thompson as Newminus Madgridge (get it?) and he should earn hazard pay for his traipsing around in huge platform boots to make him, well, you know, big. Jacob Brown was pretty clueless as Henry, but he does have a lot to learn. It's hard to imagine anyone other than David Orley as Uncle Herman Beastly, Henry's weirdly funny uncle, and Professor Rumbledore, who, now that I think about it, looks like he could also be one of the Magi. Christopher Younggren was uber-creepy as Zlandagore, and his pal Mulch was creep-in-training Jake Coffin. Oh, there's plenty of the female persuasion strutting their talented stuff. Heather Stricker, Janee Page and Erin Thompson were all top notch. And I'm almost certain that Mike Yarema's version of Henry's Aunt Prunella could be included with these lovely ladies.

You have to know, too, that scenic designer Tom Benson is the real deal. While the actors claim the spotlight (thank you lighting designers David Darland and Michael Mueller), Benson creates amazing visual delights as he delivers the setting for the characters to do their thing. What about that train that comes to carry Henry to Frogwaits? And Benson's scenic painting is just too good. Give this guy a raise.

While we're tossing around accolades, let's not forget costumer Renee Cloutier She really has fun with these fantastical characters, and the costumes are critical part of the characters we cheer and boo.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: our experience at the Gaslight would be pretty thin if it weren't for the three-piece band, headed by pianist Linda Ackermann. She's also the musical director. She glides, she slides, she soothes, she makes those keys do her bidding with a super-woman kind of authority. The musicians also alternate shows. I saw (or heard) Sabra Faulk on bass and Jon Westfall on drums.

Now, I should issue an advisory warning: do not expend all your hoots and giggles on the "featured" show. There's more to come. They bill it as an olio, which really just means a little of this and that. But this is not a throw-away or afterthought.

This particular show—yes, you really do have to switch gears after the Porter saga is sewn up—is "The Muppet Show." Now, imagine your everyday Gaslight performers transformed into the magical and enduring Jim Henson creations. Yeah, they're all there: Kermit and Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef all singing, dancing and crackin' some of the corniest jokes you've ever heard, and presto! You've have enjoyed not one, but two, bona fide Silly Shows.

In fact, I was afraid the woman sitting at a table right in back of me was going to either shoot her chocolate sundae through her nose or need paramedics supplying oxygen. She pulled through, though. She was just another happy victim of Gaslight's abundance of entertainment.

You better get you some of that stuff.

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