Whip Smart: Gaslight’s ‘Arizona Smith’ has fun with ‘Indiana Jones’

By Laura Latzko

The “Indiana Jones” franchise is known for its signature antihero character, whose adventures take him around the world. 

The Gaslight Theatre is putting its own melodramatic spin on the story with “Arizona Smith and the Relic of Doom,” which runs from Thursday, January 6, to Sunday, March 27.

In “Arizona Smith and the Relic of Doom,” the title character — an archaeologist and adventurer — must fight foreign enemies and find the Lost Relic before they capture it. It’s all set to big musical numbers and comedic moments.

The show stars fan favorite Todd Thompson as Arizona Smith and Gaslight Theatre newcomer Ruthie Hayashi as his love interest, Dr. Kate Reid.

Co-director Mike Yarema will serve as Cappy and a swing for Smith. The cast also includes Heather Stricker as Eva, Jacob Brown as Montaigne, Janée Page as Professor Cecilia Wellbourne, Erin Thompson as Priscilla, Jake Chapman as Franz/Col. Wilhelm Heimlich, and David Orley as Hans/Fallow.

Swings like Yarema are, basically, understudies who will replace cast members who fall ill.

“Thankfully, we have an incredibly talented community of actors in Tucson to pull from,” Yarema says. “The theater has never had this many talented people on the payroll. Not that we didn’t have talented people before, but we haven’t had this many in productions.”

Hayashi began her tenure with the Gaslight Theatre as an understudy and worked her way up to lead or “opening” roles after several years. Actors like Hayashi must sing, dance, act, improvise and make audiences laugh.

“It’s not something that you necessarily could just step in and learn overnight,” Yarema says.

“There are a lot of people who could do very well, but it does take a little bit of time to learn all of the tricks of the trade and to become well-rounded enough to be an opener.”

Over the years, the actor has had a chance to play different evil and good guy characters. He enjoys getting to portray antiheroes such as Smith, who are likeable yet snarky and arrogant.

“It’s fun when you get a hero who is a little different,” Yarema says. “You’re not just going up there and getting cheer lines. There’s a little more depth to the character.”

A Gaslight veteran, Todd Thompson brings new dimension to the stage with “Arizona Smith.”

“If there was ever an actor who was perfect for a character, it is Todd,” Yarema says. “He’s got that leading man thing down, especially with his quirkiness, confidence and swagger.

“Todd has this amazing vibrato. He is so confident in every choice he makes as an actor. Not only that, but he can make any situation work in his favor. Any ad-lib — even if it’s the first time he’s tried it and hasn’t quite worked it out — he can still make it funny.”

Expanding roles

Although the show is focused on Smith, the show boasts strong female characters. Reid, for example, is a doctor of archaeology who opposes Smith.

“She keeps Arizona in check,” Yarema says. “She doesn’t fall for all his shenanigans. She knows better, of course. They obviously have a little history together, which creates some of that tension.”

Yarema says Gaslight has continued to expand opportunities for actresses. Previously, it was challenging because many of the shows are male centered.

“It’s hard when you are taking these male-dominated Hollywood stories and trying to create strong female characters,” Yarema says.

“As we move forward over time, we find ways to do that because we would be silly not to include all of these talented women that we have in our cast.”

To expand these opportunities, Gaslight rethinks roles traditionally played by men. In “Arizona Smith,” for example, the professor (now Cecilia Wellbourne) was previously a male character.

Bringing the show to life

In “Arizona Smith,” lighting and sound effects bring the show to life with illusions of a collapsing bridge and rolling boulders.

“There are some real fun technical things, in additional to our normal wacky stage antics,” Yarema says.

“It is no small task to put these things together in such a small space and to make them look lifelike and, to a degree, realistic.”

Unique to this Gaslight show is a choreographed tap number, set to the tune of 1940s- and 1950s-style music. Following the performances are olios, or vaudeville-style musical variety numbers. This time, the country-western-themed pieces will be led by a Roy Rogers-inspired character.

“It’s fun for the actors, and that’s the Gaslight formula,” Yarema says. “If it’s fun for the actors, it’s also fun for the audience.”

More Info

What: “Arizona Smith and the Relic of Doom”

When: Various times Thursday, January 6, to Sunday, March 27

Where: Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway Boulevard

Cost: $27 adults

Info: 886-9428, thegaslighttheatre.com