It's high noon in Tucson. The sun is bright. The tumbleweeds are rolling through. Somewhere, there's a train off in the distance steaming down the tracks.
Just the right setting for a showdown.
On one side is the dastardly Big John, dressed from boot to brim in black, sporting a goatee and a fire in his eyes stoked by the fury of vengeance. Clearly, he's no man to cross.
On the other side is the kindly Marshall Brett Masters. An older man who's seen his fair share of no-good cowboys over the years, Masters is more than prepared to take down any two-bit cattle rustler silly enough to kick up dust in his town.
Or is he?
It's a duel for the ages as Big John and Marshall Masters face off in a battle for the fate of The Old Pueblo—and it all takes place on the stage of The Gaslight Theatre for "Showdown in Tucson."
Written and directed by Gaslight Theatre’s Peter Van Slyke, with musical direction by Linda Ackermann and choreography by Katherine Byrnes, “Showdown” features a tale as old as the genre, filled with saloons, gun fights, horse chases and train robberies.
What more could a cowboy ask for?
"Showdown" opens somewhere east of Tucson near the San Pedro River as three men ride on stage, driving a herd of cattle, and we're quickly introduced to Big John, The Sweetwater Kid and Soapy.
Big John leads the gang and is responsible for some of its more illicit dealings, including a plan to rustle some of the herd, sell them off and take revenge on Masters for locking John and Soapy up years ago out in Yuma. But there’s one problem: Kid won’t play along—it’s just not the right thing to do, he says.
That’s just another problem on Big John’s shoulders, but while he can handle it, he’s madder than a bucking bronco and no one can stop him.
It’s not long before the trio rides into town and the plan gets a little goofy. What follows is a classic Gaslight (mis)adventure smack dab in the center of Wild West Americana and chock-full of hand-painted sets, plenty of prop work and a whole barrel of laughter.
The Gaslight cast and crew come out swinging in the first production of the year, delivering a delightful performance that never takes itself too seriously. Or seriously at all, for that matter. As is tradition at Tucson’s goofy Broadway, the cast hem and haw at one another and work up the audience to cheer and boo along with the action in a way that feels almost compulsory.
Leading the way in “Showdown” were the villains, particularly the combination of Ambrose and Star, played by Todd Thompson and Janée Page, respectively. From poker hustlers to saloon proprietors, the up-and-down journey of Ambrose and Star was a particularly fun side plot.
Page and Thompson didn’t hog the spotlight, though. Mike Yarema’s Big John, the traditional western bad guy, hit all the high notes expected in a comic take on a role perfected by Lee Van Cleef some 50 years ago. Riding alongside Yarema is David Orley as Soapy, a henchman as dimwitted as he is dastardly (and more than capable of garnering hordes of laughter).
Every group of bad guys needs a fella in a white cowboy hat to thwart their plans, and “Showdown” features the Gaslight’s master of saving the day, Armen Dirtadian, in the lead role of Marshall Masters. Backing up Dirtadian is the comical Jacob Brown as Deputy Lester and the effervescent Jake Chapman as The Sweetwater Kid.
Filling out the cast with her powerful singing voice is Heather Stricker as Miss Lilly, the one-time saloon owner who falls in love with Marshall Masters, and (in my performance) local actress Lydia Zadareky as Mary Ann, the country girl who falls in love with The Sweetwater Kid. If you’re picking up on a theme of beautiful women falling in love with gun-wielding cowboys, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Zadareky seamlessly filled in for Gaslight regular Erin Thompson in a way that would leave the uninformed viewer unaware of her substitution, as she brought plenty of energy and life to the stage.
While the cast were responsible for the action on stage, the Gaslight band provided a soundtrack perfect for a hilarious trek through the Wild West. It’s no Ennio Morricone, but musical director Ackermann creates comedy in a way that perfectly complements the action.
After the dust settles and the duel is over, guests are treated to more country themes courtesy of The Beverly Hillbillies Olio, a music-driven performance by the cast and band including covers of classics by Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, Merle Travis and the Osborne Brothers.
“Showdown in Tucson” runs at The Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway Blvd., through March 29. Tickets cost $23.95, discounts available for students, seniors, military, first responders and children. More information can be found online at thegaslighttheatre.com or by calling 886-9428.