Tuesday, March 31, 2015


By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com


The “Toy Story” series of computer animated films from Pixar gets re-toasted in the new Great American Playhouse production “Toy Tales: A Western Saga” now playing in Oro Valley.

Starting with a traditional melodrama plot, the villainous and flatulence-prone Stinky Pete (Nick Seivert) along with his sidekick One-Eyed Bart – whose costume resembles Mr. Potato Head – are planning to take over the Old West settlement of Catalina Gulch. Then writer/director/actor Sean MacArthur stirs in many other characters reminiscent of the “Toy Story” community.

While there isn't a lot of logic to any of this, when has logic ever been essential to cheer-the-hero-and-boo-the-villain melodrama? Just go with it, and grab another handful of free popcorn.

This is an opportunity for audience participation, that's what everyone loves.

Plus it's fun to see all the get-ups Barbie gets to wear representing all of her professions, starting with Cowgirl Barbie, and her declaration that “it's fantastic to be plastic.”

Also playing significant roles are the sunny cowgirl Jessie, pragmatic Bo Peep, reluctant Rex the tyrannosaurus, good-natured GI Joe and Bob the builder.

Holding down the main roles are Rusty the cowboy and Buck Universe (MacArthur), a space ranger. All the show's roles are double-cast except Stinky and Buck.

While melodrama music is heavily dependent on familiar melodies which have more topical lyrics, many of the songs in this show aren't plucked from a list of greatest hits. They are little known and don't generate much energy.

Even the old Jefferson Starship boast “We Built This City on Rock 'n' Roll” didn't take over the stage. Maybe the presentation of these songs will get stronger as the run continues.

Much more successful is the robot with actor chops, Zorg, who towers over the cast and speaks with a voice worthy of the Book of Revelations. Him we can believe.

So we wend our way through the plot where, basically, Stinky Pete and One-Eyed Bart plan to blow open the Lucky Charms mine and take over the whole town of Catalina Gulch (don't worry, the ending is always happy at GAP). At the same time we have a true “Toy Story” type conflict between old-fashioned Rusty and high-tech Buck Universe.

Just like in the movies, there are a couple of times where humans unexpectedly come on the scene. All the “toys” instantly stop what they are doing and collapse like rag dolls. These scenes work very well on the theater stage.

In keeping with this old west theme, the after-show segment is a “Rootin' Tootin' Hi-Falutin' Country Western Olio” with songs everybody's been singing all their lives.

Celebrated on stage are songs from such familiar names as Homer and Jethro, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, a trio of tearful ladies singing “Your Cheatin' Heart” and Michael Claridge belting out “The Wabash Cannonball.”

“Toy Tales: A Western Saga” continues through June 6 at the Great American Playhouse, 13005 N. Oracle Road, at Rancho Vistoso Blvd. Performances are 7 p.m. Thursdays, 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18.50 with discounts, $8.50 children 12 and under. For details and reservations, 520-512-5145, gaplayhouse.com


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