Posted by LisaW
Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 09:30
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In an industrial complex just off Allen Road, you may be surprised to find there is a place for the arts among these cold steel and concrete buildings.
Oh, but there is.
Built in 2005, The Gaslight Melodrama Theatre and Music Hall is the labor of love for one Northwest family.
“I guess the reason my wife and I got into theater was because we both like to be silly and have a good time, and theater is a great way to give people a positive experience. And it’s also just a heck of a lot of fun to do. We work with an amazing group of people here, and it’s truly been the best creative experience of our lives,” artistic director Michael Prince said.
Michael and his wife, Jennifer, help run the Melodrama side of the business, which Jennifer’s parents, Arnie Carlos and Linda Larma, own. Larma also runs the dance studio next door and helps choreograph routines for the shows.
The name for the theater was inspired by an old Melodrama movie starring Lionel Barrymore called “Under The Gaslight,” according to producer Linda Larma.
The goal of the family business is to make guests feel like family, Michael said.
Upon entering the building for a performance, guests are immediately greeted by an actor who escorts them to their seats.
A raucous crew of more actors greets patrons in the back at the Moosehead Lounge where food is served. There’s song and dance when a regular is recognized or if patrons should feel generous with a tip.
Even special announcements are made, should one decide to order a diet beverage or add chili to a hot dog.
During the day, a more subdued Moosehead Lounge — minus the actors — also feeds the appetites of teeny dancers shuffling between classes.
Such activity is what makes The Gaslight a great gathering spot for family entertainment, something that had been needed in the Northwest, Michael said.
As artistic director, Michael puts in a lot of time and effort to make the Melodrama what it is.
“I usually put in 10 to 12 hour days between promotion, writing or co-writing the productions and then we have rehearsals in the evening,” he said. “I can bring my son here though and I have my whole family with me, so it’s not so bad.”
In fact, during the day, the Princes’ three-month-old son, Jack, has a prominent place at the Moosehead Lounge and lobby area of the Melodrama. His Pack N Play and stroller become a natural part of the theater’s eclectic decor.
Rehearsals are held with baby Jack strapped to the front of one of his parents unless a break is needed to care or feed him.
“It’s the best thing in the world. It’s great that I can work side by side with my husband and have our son here,” Jennifer said.
The couple loves their work and acting. They take turns caring for their son throughout the day and, during production, they usually alternate as to who gets to be in the plays.
If both of them are needed for a production, a family member is always willing to step in and care for the very popular baby boy, according to Michael.
With a year and a half worth of plays and experience under their belts, in addition to their already extensive theater background, the family has learned a thing or two about what it takes to put these productions together.
“Costumes are probably our biggest expense. We’ve become really good at manipulating old sets so our production costs have dropped over the last year,” Michael said.
Alternating between smaller and bigger shows also helps. The current show, for example, is smaller with only seven roles while the upcoming “Space the Musical” will be an all-out performance requiring them to pull on a variety of community resources.
The theater has developed some regular attendees, which allows for a more personal atmosphere with their audience.
A set up with small oval tables, rather than rows of theater seats, encourages audience members to get to know one another and further the concept of becoming part of the family.
The short intermissions between acts allow guests with small children to get up and move around.
This month, families looking for some St. Patrick’s Day fun, not involving college-style green beer guzzling, can head to the Melodrama and catch the crew’s latest Irish-inspired play.
“Our current show is ‘The Legend of Molly Malone,’ which is written by ‘Melodrama’ Mike O’Rourke. We’ve done a few of his shows in the past,” Michael said. “All of his stuff is very classic melodrama. He has the stock characters and there’s always plenty of opportunity for audience participation with the boos and the cheers.”
O’Rourke is a playwright based in Wichita, Kan., according to Michael.
In the show, sweet little Molly Malone and her love interest, Johnny O’Rightly, try to protect her family’s fish mongering business — Malone’s Fish and Dips — from the hands of the evil Seamus McRancid.
“I thought it was awesome. I think the talent is great,” said Nora Willoughby after seeing the show.
The two-act play is followed by a vaudeville review, “How to Make a Melodrama,” directed and written by Gaslight musical director Warren Dobson.
Plenty of boos, cheers, and contagious laughter fill the hall for both performances.
“We don’t really take ourselves too seriously. It’s all for the audience,” Michael said.
This time around, it is Jennifer’s turn to be in the production while Michael focuses on set building, directing and promotion, including planning their upcoming summer children’s theater.
The show that the kids will be performing this summer is “A Pirate’s Life For Me,” written by Michael.
Parents interested in getting their children involved can call 587-3377. Cost is $350 per child, and there’s a $25 discount for multiple children in the same family.
The Gaslight Melodrama Theatre and Music Hall
• 12748 Jomani Drive
• Hours: Friday 7 p.m., Saturday 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday 2 p.m.
• General admission $17; students and seniors $15; children 12 and under $7.50
• Matinee $15; students, seniors and children $7.50