Where would Mama Tosca face off against Johnny Rocket? According to the Gaslight Melodrama, "It All Happened in Haggin Oaks."
Even before Michael Prince, the theater's co-owner and artistic director, wrote this show for the new season, he knew the direction it was going to take.
He said, "It’s a real throwback to classic melodrama, but we exchange up a lot of the tropes and put things on their side."
For those who need a quick refresher, melodramas usually encourage audiences to cheer the hero and boo the villain. Prince said "Haggin Oaks" has fun with who fits what role including beefing up the side characters who are typically just support or there for comic relief."
"It challenges who you think the 'sweetheart' is," he said. "The typical hero, who is the sheriff in most shows, ends up not being the hero we thought he was going to be. The villain is still the villain — you can't change that.
"It's made for a very funny show and has a lot of nice twists and turns."
For this production, Haggin Oaks is a wild place full of "outlaws and in-laws, around the corner, at every turn." Mama Tosca (Ali Dougherty) and bodyguards Tahoe Joe (Prince) and Edward Regal (Chayce Perlis) are running things until Russo Bookman (Don Kruszka), the newly appointed sheriff, comes to set things right. Adding to the drama is Miss Apple Bee (Victoria Tiger), the sweetest of sweethearts, and the arrival of traveling villain Johnny Rocket (Phil Beglin).
Audiences should recognize those character names as current and former tenants of The Marketplace. Prince credits actor Matthew Thompson who came up with them years ago and gave his OK to use them in a future show.
One character mentioned frequently in the show has neither a funny name nor any stage time: poor beleaguered cousin Timmy, who is in desperate need of surgery.
"It's a motivating fun joke that we keep coming back to in the show," Prince said. "Familiar for those of us who have been at the Melodrama for a long time and come to the shows. When we get a tip in the snack bar, we cheer and say, 'Now Timmy can get his surgery!'
Along with the recurrent Timmy gag, "Haggin Oaks" is full of fun Melodrama easter eggs paying tribute to the theater's last 15 years.
Following the show is the vaudeville revue "The Grand Marquis of Truxtun and E," written by musical director Warren Dobson, about four patients who have left Mercy Hospital.
"Seemingly you would think they are 'crazy,'" Prince said. "But they're just trying to find some sanity in the world. Finding your happiness and what would you do to bring some joy into your life."
Speaking of joy, loyal fans have been happy to have the Melodrama back since it reopened in December. Prince said they're going to keep operations the same, with reduced seating and safety protocols.
"We’re going to keep it at half-capacity because it works," he said. "Like everybody who decided to open up, we'll see as things progress. At half-capacity, we haven't had any complaints. People have been cool with it.
"We’re happy to just be operating."
"It All Happened in Haggin Oaks" opens Friday and runs through June 26.