It's fry-an-egg-on-the-hood-of-the-car time in our beloved Tucson, and the priorities for us desert-dwellers are, 1) trying to find some shade in a parking lot, and 2) air-conditioning. And if possible, great entertainment that won't break the bank and that the whole family can enjoy. Oh, and good food. Oh, oh, and refreshing beverages.
All this is possible, friends, and all in one place. Yep. It's the Gaslight Theatre, delightful source of summer pleasures (and fall and winter for that matter–but, whoa. We're getting ahead of ourselves). This summer's spoof is the story of a nerdy Billy Baker (Jake Chapman), a spider and a molecular activator. Sound familiar? Get it? No? Doesn't matter. I'm gonna tell you. This summer Gaslight's goofiness is a seriously silly re-invention of Marvel Comics' super-hero, Spider-Man, written and directed by Peter Van Slyke. Here, however, the super-nerd turned super-hero is called Spider Guy. Billy Baker is a science geek and helplessly fashion-challenged, and he is insufferably shy around opposite-gendered persons, especially Mary Lou (Janée Page). He has a nemesis in Edgar Junior (Jacob Brown), one of the cool students, and whose father E. Edgar Eagleton (Charlie Hall), as editor of the town newspaper, has some power to wield. (My, this is fiction!) As students of super-smart Dr. Crocodilious (Mike Yarema), they get a look at his special invention and are told Don't Push This Special Button. Billy, of course, being the bumbling nerd he is, does gracelessly make contact with the Special Button, which activates the, well, Molecular Activator, and a spider just hanging around gets in the way of a potent stream of the machine's super special juice. Then said spider re-appears as a really big molecularly activated spider and for some reason bites Billy. Billy thinks nothing of it, except that he may be coming down with a bug. (Ha-ha.)
Are you with me? Do I need to tell you that there's a money-grubbing guy, Matthias Maxwell (Todd Thompson), who wants the Molecular Activator for his own dastardly purposes, although he has his own version of a bewitching machine that can turn him into the Green Gremlin? And that he and Spider Guy don't get along too well because, well, he's the bad guy and Spider Guy is the good, uh, guy?
This is quintessential Gaslight, people. Complete with puns, sublimely ridiculous technical achievements (the Gremlin's entrance from the back of the theater, for example) and songs-songs-songs. Tunes we know and love twisted to serve the equally twisted story at hand. Performed with glee and accompanied by some first-rate musicians led by music director Linda Ackermann? Wowza.
This is the second iteration of Spider-Guy, the first having been birthed in 2014. It's been tightened up a bit, and the cast is just a wee bit different, but Gaslight regulars still populate the stage with gusto: Heather Stricker as Velma Vultura, the dark-minded assistant to Mr. Maxwell; David Orley as Uncle Gus and Erin Thompson as Mackenzie Maxwell. (Note to J.B. I've seen you now several times, and although the energy you bring to the proceedings is somewhat better than earlier in your Gaslight career, you still have a way to go to match the rambunctious and reckless—and absolutely infectious—energy of your cast-mates. Hey, don't blame me, folks, for bringing up imperfection. I'm supposed to be a critic here. So there.)
But wait! There's more! After the Spidey tale has concluded, there's the requisite olio (which is a variety show type thing and has nothing to do with margarine or other bad fats.) Get ready to re-visit The Gong Show, with its crazed master of ceremonies Chuck (Yarema) Barris and a line-up of acts, each occupying a spot somewhere along the spectrum of gong-worthiness. And we, the audience, get to make the call for each one of them. What fun!
Seriously, it really is. I've been to many Gaslight shows over the years, and I am always impressed. No, it's not Hamlet; there's no pretense of lofty or deep intention. It's just what it represents itself to be: frivolous family fun genuinely well done. I don't know, maybe there's just some darn good vibes swirling around in the always-full theater, with grandmas and kids and fun-seekers of all ages enjoying their time together, inspired by the onstage antics. The menu is just right and includes award-winning Grandma Tony's Pizza, and there's always free popcorn. You get bang for your buck.
Now this is something you might not know. The Gaslight franchise has migrated north and west into Oro Valley. Seems like there were a few folks who had once worked for the Gaslight who managed to turn a space in a strip mall into a theater pretty much a clone of the eastside Gaslight. Unfortunately for them, there were financial troubles and they had to bring down their curtain. (It's no secret there was some bad blood circulating between the two groups.) But whatever the story there, the powers at Gaslight grabbed the opportunity to open what is now the Gaslight Music Hall. They don't do shows like Gaslight east. They offer an extensive line-up of musical acts and revues and dance parties. And there's that darn pizza again!
So, air-conditioning, check. Affordable entertainment, check. Good eats and refreshing beverages, check and check. (Many of the shows are at night so the need for parking shade is not so crucial.) Fun and good vibes? Over-sized check. Gaslight's got you covered for summer.