Given the quotidian American lifestyle that is filled with stress and worry, having some form of an escape from the mundane is essential, a place where one can turn off their cell phone, forget about external monotony, shut themselves away from pressures, and ultimately become lost in something fresh. For Oro Valley residents, this haven just might be found in The Great American Playhouse.
The new melodramatic theater celebrated it’s grand opening on Aug. 22 with the presentation of Pistol Pete, The World’s Greatest Cowboy. The playhouse has been three years in the making, finding support in a seemingly grassroots collaboration of investors, artists, and people who genuinely believe in the end result. This group effort gives The GAP a familial energy that greets all newcomers with a smile and a song, making them feel like they belong to something special.
The theater truly is a joyful place, filled with singing, dancing, laughing, and yes, free popcorn. The evening kicks off with sing-a-long medley of classic jingles led by talented pianist and singer, Mike Padilla. This warm welcome immediately sets the mood for a knockabout night of hilarity and audience interaction. Once guests have found their seats, the show begins.
Pistol Pete, The World’s Greatest Cowboy rolls back the clock to a more rugged time filled with fistfights, shootouts, and outlaws. Pete, a heroic cowboy who was raised by coyotes in the blistering Arizona desert, is joined by his gang of noble wranglers and one lovely cowgirl as they battle the villainous Bullfrog Doyle. Bullfrog plots a nefarious scheme to take over Grasshopper Junction, then Arizona, then the country, then the world, and it is up to Pete and his gang to save the day.
The play follows the formula of melodrama, but also contains a sort of home grown neighborly vibe. This pleasant and family friendly aura was almost certainly the goal when the theater’s operators were envisioning The GAP, and they fully accomplish it. The acting is impeccable, and the singing even better. The props and stage, though cheesy at times, are hilarious. Watching Pete wrestle a stuffed mountain lion and ride the saddle of a makeshift horse is all part of the show’s shenanigans. But the evening does not end there. The conclusion of the play brings the beginning of the Broadway Olio. The cast changes costumes, and comes back on stage for a sequence of songs and jokes.
Is there room for improvement at The GAP? Of course there is, but that is going to be part of the journey. Something tells me that the cast and crew is just getting started, and that as time moves on, the productions will continue to improve. Watching the company transform itself into an even more stellar experience is going to be a treat for Oro Valley. It is a blank slate, a new medium of entertainment and community in our own back yard, it is ours, and we get to watch it grow. The fledgling theater has just discovered its wings, and I for one cannot wait to watch it learn to fly.