The year is 1987: big hair is in, Swatch watches are all the rage and only the coolest kids are wearing Coca-Cola brand clothing. It’s to that radical era of bright-colored sunglasses, trendy side ponytails and hoop hearings that the Gaslight Theatre transports its cast and crew for its new production, “Back to the Past.”
Pleasantdale, U.S.A. is the setting of this melodrama, and all the teens at the local high school are preparing for the biggest event of the season—the 1950s sock hop.
While everyone in school is excited for the big day, Mickey McFry is anxiously preparing for his band’s audition to play the dance. All goes well for the Johnny B. Goods, though Mickey’s habit of showing up late to class disqualifies them from their moment of glory.
Though McFry is feeling down and out, his old pal, Professor Jedediah Bunsen, is more than ready to rope his youthful sidekick into a new science experiment. Anyone familiar with the 1985 hit movie, featuring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, can probably see where the story goes from there, though I won’t provide any detailed spoilers.
Through a moment of teenage adrenaline-chasing, McFry accidently transports himself back to 1957, where he happens upon his parents (and other town residents) going about their high school days.
It’s a matter of returning to the future for a boy out of time, all handled with the Gaslight’s signature style of none-too-serious melodrama. The fight scenes are full of sounds lifted from comic books, actors try their best to make one another laugh mid-scene and the song and dance take center stage—all without any of the seedier aspects of the source content.
As with many of the Gaslight’s melodramas, much of the plot and the characters of “Past” are lifted from successful, mainstream movies and literature, with some of the details changed around. Whereas Doc and Marty power their car with plutonium, Bunsen and Mickey are more interested in the power of the fictional element “bazillium.” Switch out the flux capacitor in the DeLorean for an “astrofacilitator” and this journey through space and time is ready to roll.
It’s a formula that’s worked for Tucson’s goofy Broadway for 41 years and counting.
Returning to the stage once again is a host of Gaslight regulars, each of whom is given plenty of opportunity to steal a scene with a song, dance or joke.
Leading the way as McFry is the always energetic Jake Chapman, whose effervescent stage presence is allowed to roam freely across the stage as he lights up scene after scene. Not far behind Chapman, and sharing much of the spotlight, are Mike Yarema and Jacob Brown, who play the roles of McFry’s father and the zany Prof. Bunsen, respectively.
Yarema, who often finds himself as the triumphant hero of the tale, does well playing off the younger Chapman as a stuttering nerd looking to ask out the prettiest girl in school, while Brown uses every bit of gusto he can muster to embody the borderline insane genius brought to the big screen by Lloyd more than 30 years ago.
Every good guy needs a villain, and Todd Thompson was more than ready to fill the role as the brutish Buzz with a well-timed moment of teenage bullying to keep the story going. And what’s a villain without some love interests? Thanks to Janée Page, Erin Thompson and Heather Stricker, the boys have plenty to fawn over.
Filling out the cast of “Past” were David Orley as principal Ledbetter, and Charlie Hall as dean Caldwell, each of whom were more than capable of providing plenty of laughs.
While much attention is drawn to the performers, no Gaslight show would be complete without a plethora of masterfully painted sets, plenty of prop gags and some smoke and lighting effects, and this production had a lot to show off. Most noticeably, the theater recently installed a television screen above the main stage to provide extra context (and gags) to the show.
And if traveling through time and assuring that your parents fall in love isn’t enough for one night, make sure to stick around for the American Bandstand Olio, featuring covers of The Big Bopper, The Diamonds, Roy Orbison and more.
“Back to the Past” runs through June 2. The Gaslight Theatre is located at 7010 E. Broadway Blvd. More information, including ticket prices, can be found online at thegaslighttheatre.com or at 866-9428.