A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . we used to attend indoor concerts without thinking twice. For more than a year, the folks at Tucson’s Gaslight Theatre and Oro Valley’s Gaslight Music Hall have been itching to come back inside, and this month they finally did.
The Gaslight Theatre closed its indoor shows on March 16, 2020, originally planning to be closed only until April 16 — but we all know how that played out. Instead of waiting to return to indoor shows, they kept busy with a “best of” series of outdoor shows through the summer, which featured many of their classic musical numbers, along with their signature costumes and goofy humor.
The Gaslight Theatre finally kicked off their 2021-22 season on June 10 with Space Wars, a musical parody of Star Wars. The comedy show blends elements of Star Wars movies new and old, featuring characters like Duke Starfighter, Princess Layla and Dark Visor.
“We picked Space Wars as our return because it’s one of our most amazing tech shows,” said Heather Stricker, general manager of the Gaslight Theatre and Gaslight Music Hall. “There’s so much to look at: the costumes are amazing, and the music is great. But on top of all of that, it’s hilarious. And it’s not just funny for Star Wars fans, it’s funny for little kids, and adults who’ve never seen Star Wars. It’s just one of those shows that no matter your background or age, there’s something for everyone in it.”
The two-hour show includes lasers, spaceships, outrageous costumes and plenty of popular songs reworked with science fiction lyrics. Gags include light effects replicating a spaceship’s warp speed, robots driving around the stage, arms getting cut off by a lightsaber and plenty more. As with any Gaslight show, it has plenty of hilarious one-liners, but even funnier than the scripted jokes is seeing the actors try to make each other laugh and improvise around technical difficulties.
“I think our nerves are bigger than they used to be, just because we haven’t done it in a while. But other than that, it feels just like going home, because this is our second family,” Stricker said. “Just being back inside our theatre is special. We’ve also made some changes going forward. We’re a very formulaic theatre. We’ve been doing similar things for the past 43 years, so with being closed for over a year we realized this was the time to make some much-needed improvements and progression.”
These changes include the show featuring four opening actresses instead of the usual three, and it also includes a gender-swapped character; Dark Visor (played by Stricker) is a woman for the first time.
Gaslight shows are generally uplifting thanks to their blend of live music and humor, but this is even more so, with the audience shouting and singing along, clearly excited to be back in front of the stage.
“We were really scared that we would put these shows on sale and nothing would happen. But it’s been the exact opposite,” Stricker said. “People are dying to come back. All of our social media posts have comment after comment of people saying they can’t wait, and this is exactly what people need after such a long year: to laugh.”
Shows are quickly selling out, so much so that the Gaslight even added another show per week starting in July to keep up with demand.
After Space Wars concludes at the end of August, the Gaslight will switch to their Halloween show Frankenstein, which runs into November. Frankenstein will feature the return of a “Gaslight favorite” who currently lives in New York, David Fanning, who will do the show’s entire run without an understudy, so every Tucson fan will have the opportunity to see him. And after Frankenstein, the Gaslight Theatre will switch to their Christmas show, “Elf’d.”
For now, all of their shows are indoors. However, the Gaslight Theatre and Musical Hall still have the infrastructure and stages from their outdoor shows, which they might use for future music events.
Both venues are currently operating at 60% capacity. Staff will be masked, and they strongly recommend guests to be masked when not eating, but masks are not mandatory. They are unsure when they’ll return to 100% capacity.
“We’re just inching our way back and making sure everyone feels comfortable. We’re allowed to do 100% capacity, there’s nothing holding us back legally, we just want our customers and staff to feel safe,” Stricker said.
The Gaslight Music Hall in Oro Valley returned to fully indoor shows the week of June 1. Unlike the Gaslight Theatre, the Music Hall features more one-off shows ranging from tribute acts to local bands.
Upcoming shows include the Backroads country band covering the music of several country greats on Friday, June 25; El Mariachi Tapatio de Tucson celebrating Mexican history with a patriotic flourish of traditional song on Sunday, June 27; a salute to America with Armen Dirtadian and The Manhattan Dolls on Sunday, July 4; and a rock and roll dance party on Friday, July 16.
“A real shoutout to our owner Tony Terry, who opened this theatre over 40 years ago. He’s the one who pretty much single-handedly got us through the pandemic,” Stricker said. “For a profit theatre like we are, we had almost no assistance financially until the end. And we almost didn’t make it through, if I’m being honest. So big thanks to Tony, and we’re very excited to be back.”
Gaslight Theatre and Gaslight Music Hall
The Gaslight Theatre is located at 7010 E. Broadway Blvd. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit thegaslighttheatre.com.
The Gaslight Music Hall is located at 13005 N. Oracle Road #165, for more information and to purchase tickets, visit gaslightmusichall.com.