Yee-haw! Ándale, amigos!
If the name of the production wasn’t an obvious tip of the cowboy hat as to the setting of “The Belle of Tombstone,” the opening line of the show—complete with revolver shots—quickly sets the scene for a trip into the final years of the Wild West.
While the name “Tombstone” normally carries with it retellings of the Earp brothers, Doc Holliday and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the cast and crew at The Gaslight Theatre staked their claim elsewhere, setting their wagons off on an original adventure. But don’t worry, this version of “The Town Too Tough to Die” is still chock-full of dastardly bandits, coach robberies, saloon brawls and plenty of intrigue.
It’s somewhere near the turn of the century, and the people of Tombstone are going about their businesses much as expected for the dusty frontier town. “Belle” opens on the interior of the Silver Dollar Saloon as gunshots and rowdy cowboy exclamations fill the air.
It’s not long before the establishment is patronized by Curly Bill, San Pecos Sam and Ringo. No-good from the moment they walk through the swinging doors, one thing becomes quite clear early on in the story: Things don’t look good for the people of Tombstone. Cowboys are taking over the town, driving out the lawful folk, leaving a few of the more hardened residents behind to make a living.
Behind Tombstone’s recent troubles is the smooth-talking Jack Diamond, seemingly an homage to Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes in “The Good The Bad and the Ugly.” Diamond is a man full of schemes, two of which come to light as the opening scene plays out: Diamond sells a mining claim for an empty hole to unsuspecting marks, and is using the cowboys to take over the town.
It’s clear Diamond knows what he’s doing, as there are few in Tombstone willing to stand up to him, though one woman finds herself a bystander to the evil man’s game and decides to intervene.
That woman is Belle, the owner of the Silver Dollar Saloon and known throughout town as “The Miner’s Angel” for the goodwill and hospitality she shows the men. With a few well-placed punches, Belle sends the rough-talking cowboys on their way, and all seems right in the world.
But as is so often the case with melodrama, the moment of peace is short lived, and the people of Tombstone have a pretty serious cowboy problem on their hands. Luckily, “Belle” is complete with a valiant hero and a damsel in distress, so all should end turn out right in the end.
But, who knows when it comes to gun duels?
It’s definitely a wild start to 2019 for the Gaslight crew, whose first show of the season sets a strong tone for what’s to come out of Tucson’s goofy Broadway. For the uninitiated into the Gaslight’s unique brand of theater: Don’t take anything too seriously, or it’s possible to misunderstand the slapstick nature as amateur hour.
Far from it, this cast of professional thespians takes the job of not being too serious on-stage quite seriously, and come prepared for every performance with a seemingly endless supply of funny faces, shoddy accents and bad one-liners as they live out their Wild West adventure.
It’s tough to call one actor or actress the main draw of “Belle,” as the cast of Gaslight regulars share much of the stage time in this ensemble performance. David Orley, Charlie Hall and Todd Thompson each bring a different bandit archetype to the stage as Curly Bill, San Pecos Sam and Ringo, acting as the bumbling fool, Hispanic cowboy and all-black-wearing duelist, and fully embody their characters with silly antics to go along with their dastardly deeds. Leading the misfits as Jack Diamond is Mike Yarema, who sheds his normal role as the good guy to step in the boots of a no good con artist with extra charm. Filling out the team of evil-doers this time around is Janée Page as Margarita, Ringo’s over-affectionate Latin lover who works at the saloon.
Just as the McLaury’s, the Clantons and Billy Claiborne found their foes in the lawmen Earp brothers and Doc Holliday at the historic Tombstone shootout, Jack Diamond and his gang have a posse of law abiding citizens to defeat if their evil plans are to succeed.
Leading the good guys is U.S. Marshal Ned Wingate, played by the always-energetic Jake Chapman, whose bright stage presence lends itself well to his role as the lawful gun. The titular role of Belle is played by Heather Stricker, who also leads the entire cast with her powerful singing voice. Jacob Brown handles the role of old Frank, Diamond’s most recent mark. Erin Thompson fills out the cast with plenty of her own energy as Patsy, a performer who made it big in Tombstone and was once in love with Wingate. (Does anyone actually fall out of love in a melodrama?)
The cast aren’t alone in making “Belle” a western success, as the Gaslight crew once again deliver impressive work across multiple set designs, and costumes which would fit well in any of Sergio Leone’s westerns.
As with all of The Gaslight’s shows, “Belle” tells its tale over two acts complete with several musical performances featuring a variety of the cast. After the performance, the actors and actresses return to the stage for a full-music performance of the “The Grand Ol’ Opry Olio.”
“The Belle of Tombstone” was written and directed by Peter Van Slyke, with musical direction from Linda Ackermann and choreography by Katherine Byrnes. The show runs at The Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway Blvd, through March 31. For more information go to gaslighttheatre.com or call 886-9428.