Rockabilly Raceway

Johnny Rambler makes his entrance.

THE GAWNES

Who is that man with the swinging hips? He just blew into town, and no one knows a lick about him. 

Is it James Dean, could it be Elvis? Well, something like that.

Wandering into Wanda’s Diner halfway through the first act of The Gaslight Theatre’s newest production, “Rock-a-Billy Raceway,” is none other than regular hero Jake Chapman. Once again he’s here to save the day—and his name’s Johnny Rambler. 

Cue the oohs and ahs.

Rambler rolls into Smalltown, where the Miss Small Town Rock and Roll Dance Contest and Raceway 250 are soon approaching. Little does the slick-haired, white T-wearing hero with blue suede shoes know that he will soon play a role in the affairs of Smalltown’s upcoming events—but that’s how these things normally transpire.

With his rolled-up jeans, leather jacket and killer dance moves, Rambler quickly gains the attention of the town’s quirky residents, especially when he arrives just in time to help Rolinda Porter (Janée Page) win the first round of the dance contest. 

For a Gaslight show (and I’ve now seen a fair number), this production packs a surprisingly dense plot, filled with plenty of dance and singing numbers, sabotage, fist fights and everything else that makes films and plays set in the 1950s such a hoot. 

Though Chapman’s youthful energy often steers the ship when he’s on stage, “Rock-a-Billy” is performed by the ever-reliable Gaslight collective: David Orley as Pop’s Porter, Jacob Brown as Auggie the tech and Todd Thompson as Lunkhead the opposing racer. Tiffany Harker, a spoiled girl looking to dash Rolinda’s hopes at stardom, was handled perfectly by the human-firecracker Erin Thompson. Her father, Boss Harker, was played by longtime Gaslight actor Armen Dirtadian. Filling out the production are Heather Thompson as Wanda and Mike Yarema as Buddy Barker, the TV host who acts as narrator for the latter parts of the show.

While the cast captivated aplenty, the Gaslight production team must have worked overtime to make the set and props for “Rock-a-Billy,” which seemed to be the theater’s most complicated venture in several years. Aside from the regular chase scene on the main stage, Rambler and Lunkhead engage in a drag race off stage right in the wing, and a fold-down racetrack plays out another race with prop cars. That’s all on top of hand-painted backgrounds, colorful costumes and new outfits for waitresses.

The work shows, and Greased Lightning speeds down the racetrack.

Check out “Rock-a-Billy” through June 3 at the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway Blvd. Family friendly, all ages welcome. Showings Tuesdays through Sundays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 6 and 8:30 p.m. with select 3 p.m. dates and Sundays at 3 and 6 p.m. with select noon showings. Adults $21.95; students, seniors and military $19.95 and Children 2-12 $11.95. More information online at gaslighttheatre.com or 886-9428. 

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