Marshal Masters and Miss Lilly are centre stage

Having just visited Tombstone last month, I was already in the mood for a good old-fashioned western. The Gaslight Theatre obliged by putting on a production entitled Showdown in Tucson.

In the 1880s Tucson is a dusty and rather peaceful town on the fringes of civilisation. If they had TV back then they would have been watching episodes of Gunsmoke, with Marshal Dillon and Miss Kitty, the lovelorn proprietor of the Longbranch Saloon.

Since this is The Gaslight Theatre, renowned in the Old West for its satirical takeoffs, perhaps it comes as no surprise that the Showdown features Marshal Masters and Miss Lilly, the lovelorn proprietor of the Stongbranch Saloon.

When Armen Dirtadian strode onto the stage I could have sworn it was the reincarnation of the 6-foot 7 James Arness (1923-2011) as Marshal Dillon. With the beguiling  Heather Strickler by his side as Miss Lilly, this is a truly nostalgic experience for those of us who remember Gunsmoke, which ran from 1955-1975. At a venerable 20 years, it was the longest running TV Western. (By the way, when you take Dr. Jay’s walking tour of Tombstone, you learn about TV Westerns too. Read my report in regarding Tombstone and Dr Jay).

Soapy (l) and Big John

Writer Peter van Slyke does his usual fine job at crafting a tale of good vs evil, with Big Bad John (Mike Yarema) in the role of the evil gunslinger out to get the Marshal. In the play the Marshal has a sidekick who must have been Barney Fife in another TV show starring Andy Griffith. The Don Knotts character here, Lester, is played by Jacob Brown.

The Kid and Mary Anne

We have here not one but two love interests, with the Kid (Jake Chapman) falling for Mary Ann (Lydia Zadareky). Chapman is his usual energetic and bouncy self, setting just the right tone as a young cowpoke who aspires to a better life. Rounding out this fine cast are the marvellous David Orley as Big John’s hapless sidekick Soapy, Todd Thompson as the con man Ambrose, and his partner in crime Star (Janée Page). Some future shows will feature other actors in the various roles.

Showdown in Tucson is, of course, a musical (this is the Gaslight Theatre!). Hearing the Marshal sing Blazing Saddles was great (Dirtadian has a tremendous voice), and this is the first time I’ve heard Rawhide performed in person. Page’s yodelling in Cowboy Sweetheart was a delight, and Brown’s version of You’re in the Jailhouse Now was quite funny. Unlike earlier productions I’ve seen here, the words to the music was kept original, not replaced by lyrics shaped for the play. This enhanced the feel of a real Western show and kept it from being slapstick. I heartily recommend this for everyone.

And don’t leave when it is over, or you will miss the show featuring the actors in a country music concert. Dirtadian wows the audience here with a rendition of Sixteen Tons, and Orley channels Boxcar Willie too. Seeing this ‘old-time hobo’ style of music is a rare treat, and no one did it better than Boxcar Willie, who left us 21 years ago.

Another winning production from Gaslight, with a nostalgia factor of 10. Just leave your pistols at the door, there are plenty on stage!

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Marshal Masters and Miss Lilly are centre stage