The Gaslight Melodrama knows the winning formula — a rollicking show in which you cheer the hero(es) and boo the villain — but it's doing something a little different for its 100th show opening Friday.
"It's a little more meta than any show than we’ve done before," said Michael Prince, the theater's artistic director, of "Big Trouble on China Grade Loop."
That description makes sense when you consider the new show's many layers.
Prince said, "It's really a huge tribute and celebration of the melodrama history that has been in Bakersfield the last 35 years. It's a behind-the-scenes look about how we put on a melodrama. And it's also a melodrama within a melodrama."
In the show's first act, the performers at Bakersfield Melodrama on China Grade Loop in Oildale (a nod to the Vaudeville Express Melodrama that closed there in 2001) are celebrating the opening of the theater's 100th show.
Enter Simon D. Slugworth, the new, evil landlord played by Don Kruszka, who wants to spoil the ensemble's good time and declares “all this joy and happiness has got to go!”
That leaves the actors, known by their Melodrama character roles — Rita (Tamara White), Granny (Jennifer Prince), The Mayor (Michael Kubik), Sweetie Pie (Victoria Tiger) and The Sheriff (Nicholas Winters) — scrambling to find a new venue.
The show within a show really gets underway in Act 2.
"The mysterious bad guy has essentially forced them out," Prince said. "They find a big old red barn in Rosedale," a tip of the hat to the Gaslight, which has a red barn-style facade.
"He tries to sabotage them at every turn."
The show plays into the community's rich melodrama history both at the Oildale theater and the one in Rosedale.
"We reference certain shows that were performed out there in the ’80s and early ’90s. We're self-deprecating, poking fun at ourselves. Saying the vaudeville is funnier than the main stage show. They (audiences) enjoy it more than the main stage show."
In reality, the vaudeville revue accompanying this show should be thrilling, with plenty of surprises in store. "It Happened At The Blue Tail Lounge! (You Never Know WHO You'll Run Into)," the latest in the karaoke series written by Gaslight musical director Warren Dobson, has an added twist. Throughout the show's run (ending March 7), there will be guest appearances from former Melodrama cast members.
"Warren is keeping that pretty close to his chest" Prince said of the list of returning performers. "Every day he seems to get an affirmation from somebody. It's starting to get to be so much to keep track of."
Prince invites melodrama fans new and old to see what it takes to put on show, as told in a comedic, musical way.
"Because life can be really stressful. It's nice to take a break even for a couple of hours."