Yays and Boos

By Sherry Jackson

Gaslight Theatre marks 41 years of audience fun

From mariachis to a Janis Joplin tribute band, The Gaslight Theatre has been providing Tucson with music and entertainment for more than 40 years.

After having a less than successful start in Skagway, Alaska, with The Mighty Moose Melodrama Theatre’s Gold Fever production, former U of A student, Tony Terry, along with friends, decided to move the theater to Tucson and rebrand to the Gaslight Theatre.

Terry serves as Gaslight’s president and owner. The Tucson operation began small, with only a few shows a week, but as word spread, The Gaslight soon outgrew its location in an old red barn at Trail Dust Town on Tanque Verde Road.

As the theater continued to grow in popularity, it prompted Terry to design and build a new venue at the corner of Sabino Canyon and Tanque Verde Road. After 10 years, it was time to move again—this time to its current location in the former Jerry Lewis Theatre at the corner of Broadway Boulevard and Kolb Road.

The Gaslight Theatre offers nine to 24 shows each month to nearly sold-out crowds. The Gaslight brand has grown, too, and includes a costume shop, a print shop, Little Anthony’s Diner, Grandma Tony’s Pizza and Wings and the Gaslight Music Hall in Oro Valley.

The Gaslight Theatre’s main stage shows are classic melodramas, says Heather Stricker, one of Gaslight’s opening actresses and who also serves as the media relations director and entertainment manager.

“That means a highly comedic, musical show where the audience gets to ‘yay’ for the good guys and ‘boo’ for the bad guys.”

Shows are family-friendly and open to all ages, she adds. Favorites include The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Spider Guy, Elf’d, Henry Porter and Ghost Blasters. Scripts for the shows are written in-house by Peter VanSlyke, who directs each show.

“It’s a perfect date night or time with family,” Stricker says. “We are happy to entertain Tucson and Oro Valley all year round. You can always expect a fun night out with laughter and free popcorn when you come to The Gaslight Theatre, and that appeals to all ages.”

On Monday nights, The Gaslight Theatre holds its concert series, which features tribute acts, mariachi shows, magic shows and music from the 1930s through the 1990s. Most are local acts, but the theater is booking touring acts as well, Stricker says. The theaters’ family-friendliness, wide variety of concerts and shows and its 40-year reputation make it stand out in the community, Stricker says. A spot as one of the theaters’ nine full-time acting positions are in “high demand and attract the best professional talent in Tucson.”

“We have people that have really great experience and have been doing this for a long time,” she says. “We also have the same actors in every show, which makes it fun for audiences to come see their favorites in very different parts throughout the year.”

Many actors not only perform in the melodramas but utilize their talents in the musical shows as well. In addition to the nine full-time actors, the company also has about 10 to 15 understudy, part-time positions and hires additional talent for its Christmas productions.

Coming up, The Gaslight Theatre’s summer show, Gnatman, will be a spoof of the popular comic Batman, and is one of its most popular shows.

About two years ago the company added The Gaslight Music Hall in Oro Valley for its patrons on Tucson’s east side.

Robert Shaw, who owns Lonely Street Productions, a full-scale national concert production company, also manages The Gaslight Music Hall and its programming. While The Gaslight Theatre focuses more on the melodrama shows, Shaw says they (him and Terry) wanted The Gaslight Music Hall to have “its own personality” focusing mainly on music-based shows.

The Gaslight Music Hall brings in nostalgic concerts, such as ’50s, ’60s and ’70s vintage rock, tribute bands and the occasional jazz or country band. Most are local bands with the sporadic national touring act. Saturdays are reserved for the headline act of the week, Shaw says. On Friday nights, they clear out the tables and have a dance party.

An interactive murder mystery show is popular with patrons. In July, Murder at Cactus Casino, is set to debut featuring gambling and gangsters. Shaw says he’s also looking at bringing back Menopause, the Musical.

“We’re really excited to be here,” Shaw says. “The town of Oro Valley has been fantastic, and the community has really embraced the venue with open arms. People sometimes come two to four times per week for different shows. We’ve developed our own little family here.”