By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
In journalism, there is an expression: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are good it’s a duck.
However, there are exceptions.
The Great American Playhouse, far to the northwest in Oro Valley, has opened with a format that is – down to the last detail – strikingly similar to the 35 years old (and more popular than ever) Gaslight Theatre on Tucson’s far southeast side.
The free popcorn, the corny jokes, the encouragement to cheer those heroes and boo those villains, it’s all at the Great American Playhouse, too.
But watching the GAP’s grand opening melodrama “Pistol Pete, The World’s Greatest Cowboy!” is a much different experience from going to Gaslight.
Fans of melodrama, you know who you are, won’t buy the idea that GAP is just like the Gaslight. It isn’t.
That’s not to say the Great American show is bad. It isn’t. If you’ve never been to Gaslight, a trip to the GAP will be a good time -- especially if you live on the northwest side of town.
Leading the list of players, cast as Pistol Pete that larger-than-life legend of the wide open spaces, is Stewart Gregory. He’s got star quality, looking lean and lanky in his bright red cowboy shirt.
Adding depth to a smaller role as the somewhat fumbling Mayor-Mushmouth is James Gooden, a pillar of the Tucson theater community.
Performing the essential role of the black-clad despicable villain Jeremiah “Bullfrog” Doyle is sinister Sean MacArthur. Nick Seivert provides comedy relief in a scruffy beard as the chuck wagon chef called Cookie. Seivert is also the writer and director of “Pistol Pete, The World’s Greatest Cowboy!”
Pitching in her own funny moments of over-the-top acting is Jacinda Rose Swinehart with a couple of roles, Gypsy Jeanne Fontaine and Mama Huayne.
As the absolutely necessary damsel in distress is Jodi Darling playing lovely Rose Hunt and the legendary giant catfish-riding Slue-Foot Sue.
Nancy LaViola is also double cast in those two roles, but more importantly she is GAP’s founding sparkplug, chief cook and bottle washer. She’s also the choreographer.
It is worth noting Gregory, Gooden, MacArthur, Seivert, Darling and LaViola all performed regularly at Gaslight Theatre at one time or another. That company has been a huge influence on this one.
The show itself has Jeremiah “Bullfrog” Doyle trying to take all the land along the incoming railroad route and the good people of Grasshopper Junction, Arizona, fighting to save their town from Doyle’s evil intentions.
After “Pistol Pete,” the cast changes costumes and comes back onstage in more formal wear to present their Broadway Olio. The song list includes “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Broadway Rhythm,” “Horse Right Here” the opening number from “Guys and Dolls,” and “All That Jazz” from “Chicago.”
“Pistol Pete, The World’s Greatest Cowboy” runs through Nov. 16 with performances at 7 p.m. Thursdays, 6 p.m. Fridays, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sundays. All performances are at the Great American Playhouse, 13005 N. Oracle Rd., in the shopping mall at Oracle Road and Rancho Vistoso Blvd.
Tickets are $17.95 general admission, $15.95 seniors, students and active military, $7.95 children 12 and under. For details and reservations, 520-512-5145 or visit www.greatamericanplayhouse.com
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