By now the Great American Playhouse has gained notoriety across north Tucson as a rowdy melodramatic theater that fills its auditorium with laughter and energy. On weekend evenings, the theater is commonly filled to the back with audience members who join in on the fun by singing along with the familiar ballads, booing at the villains, and cheering for the heroes. The roof threatens to fly off the foundation on these crowded evenings of rowdiness. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I attended the theater’s Sunday afternoon showing of their newest production “Naomi and Michelle’s Excellent Adventure”, and found the auditorium half full. It seemed as though it would be a different crowd than I had grown accustomed to in prior GAP experiences, as the audience appeared tired from the mid-day heat, from large Sunday lunches, and from the thoughts of beginning a new a work week. I sat in my seat, and prepared myself for what I fully expected to be a toned down and lazy rendition of GAP’s newest play, lacking the perennial punching power that the company has become known for.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
By the beginning of the second act, the Great American players had won over the crowd completely, and I had entirely forgotten that attendance was far less than that of a weekend evening. You never would have guessed by the volume and energy that filled the room.
In “Naomi and Michelle”, playwright Sean MacArthur blends elements of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” to bring us a wonderfully silly tale about two hip high school girls from the fictional Oro Valley High in the year 1984. Naomi and Michelle are facing academic probation on account of their less than radical grades in American history. Unless they can pull off an incredible final presentation, the girls will be forced to sit out of the championship volleyball game. But as luck would have it, the desert dwelling duo happens upon a time machine that ultimately takes them on a journey throughout American history, opening the floodgates for hilarious occurrences between the clueless teenagers and the most prominent men and women in America’s formation.
The GAP is comprised of much more than actors. These are all out performers, feeding off the orchestration of musical director Mike Padilla to deliver a top-notch over-the-top invention.
Sean MacArthur seems to lead the way of the talented team, as he masterfully slips into historical role after historical role as John Adams, John Muir, and American General MacArthur (as well as a few secret cameos). Nick Seivert and Jesus Limon are comedic naturals, undoubtedly in their element in a company such as GAP. The mere presence of Limon and Seivert seems to bring the hilarity up a notch whenever they appear on the stage. Amy Dehaven may be the most diverse part of the GAP comedy machine, as she masters roles ranging from a stereotypical 40-something high school volleyball coach, to the tough and rugged cowboy Frank James, to a refined and principled Susan B. Anthony. Jacinda Rose Swineheart has established herself as an ever-faithful centerpiece of the team. With Swineheart, you always know what you are going to get, a strong presence, talent, and a bounding energy. Swineheart’s partner in crime, Dennis Tamblyn flows in a similar vein as Seivert, unmistakably self aware that just about anything he does is funny. In this production, he conquers as Todd, the metro and evil high school cheerleader who, as malicious as he is, is impossible to hate. Most of the team’s energy is pumped from the bottomless reservoir that is the young Randy McDonald. McDonald has a way of stealing the show with his comedic precision and dancing. GAP’s young aces are Erin Anderson and Jacqueline Williams, who play the title roles. They bring much promise and stability to a group oozing with talent, and are perfect as oblivious 80’s teens who begin to learn valuable life lessons.
Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, the time block makes no difference to the Great American Playhouse. They will win your heart and brighten your day as you become lost in a wacky world of tomfoolery. “Naomi and Michelle” is merely the next chapter of a GAP book that keeps getting better, and is so totally most triumphant.