It’s All About the Cowbell: Farce about actor is ‘Walken’ into Arizona Rose Theatre’s stage

By Bridgette Redman

Inspiration can strike from all sorts of places.

Sometimes the muse speaks when you’re goofing around with friends, making long technical rehearsal days go shorter.

Such was the case for Ruben Rosthennhausler, director and playwright of “Walken in His Shoes,” which runs for two days at Arizona Rose Theatre, the place from where the idea was birthed.

Rosthennhausler saw a “Saturday Night Live” sketch with Christopher Walken, and the next day at the Arizona Rose Theatre he brought his Walken impersonation. By the end of the afternoon, all six of them were doing lighting and tech as Walken.

The next day, Rosthennhausler asked, wouldn’t it be funny if there was a Walken fan club made up of members obsessed with imitating him? Terry Howe, the late co-founder of Arizona Rose Theatre, walked by and agreed and said, “You should call it ‘Walken in His Shoes.’”

That was all it took and Rosthennhausler started writing.

The result was a play in which a fan club is getting ready for the first Christopher Walken Beauty Pageant in which everyone does their impersonations. They’re thrown off, however, when a woman shows up and wants to join their club.

While some are just thrilled to get that close to a real woman, others are wary, especially before the big event where someone is going to be crowned Mr. or Mrs. Christopher Walken.

In addition to the five club members, there is the pageant host and his son, whom he nepotically is angling to take the crown.

When Rosthennhausler wrote the play in 2013-2014, he did a staged, condensed reading as part of the Arizona Rose Theatre’s New Works Series.

He took the condensed version to Washington, D.C., as part of a fringe festival where he had the opportunity to perform in it and receive feedback.

“The feedback was so cool,” Rosthennhausler says. “We got a Washington Post review and five other reviews. They were all positive. They said the show had broad humor and was just a fun time.”

His cast for this production is alumni of Marana High School, where his daughter was involved in musical theater. The coast is made up of 18 to 22 year olds. He taught the how to be impersonators.

“I tell them to watch the movies and also listen to people who impersonate him, because they do the broad strokes of his voice, the pauses,” Rosthennhausler says.

“Christopher Walken says he doesn’t think about the punctuation in the script, he creates his own pauses. Most people would pause at the end of the sentence, he makes up his own end of sentence which would be in the middle.”

Rosthennhausler likens “Walken in His Shoes” to a farce, filled with broad humor and puns. He has one character who is a gang banger who testifies that the first time he was introduced to Walken was when his image appeared in a tortilla his mother had made for him.

“I wanted to write something that made people laugh,” Rosthennhausler says. “You don’t have to think in this show. Just sit back and laugh and have a good time.”

He’s also pleased he can stage the show at Arizona Rose Theatre, as he’s been part of the group for 30 years.

He was attracted to the community theater because of the founders, Terry and Cindy Howell. Both of them had been in the entertainment industry and decided they wanted to return to Tucson to write their own shows—those with positive messages.

“All their shows would be family friendly so families could come and do live theater and see shows that had positive messages,” Rosthennhausler says. “They were about helping the community and giving actors a playground to act in and do different characters and all in a positive way.”

Rosthennhausler was 19 and had dropped out of college when his mom suggested he audition for one of the Arizona Rose’s musicals. He did and his life changed. He’s been a part of the theater since, whether on stage or backstage. He performed in some of the original musicals the Howells created, including “Tombstone,” which was later taken to Hollywood.

He met his wife there, learned the skills for the career he would pursue as the technical director of the Berger Performing Arts Center, and brings his two girls there to perform.

Now he’s added “playwright” to his list of theatrical accomplishments at Arizona Rose Theatre.

He has spoken with Walken’s agent who says the actor is aware of the show. It is on Rosthennhausler’s bucket list to someday perform the show in New York. In the meantime, he’s excited about it being a part of the New Works series here in Tucson.

“If you like to laugh, come see the show,” Rosthennhausler says. “If you like Christopher Walken, come see the show. And if you like to laugh and you like Christopher Walken, it’s a must see for you.”

And there will be cowbell.