BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – The world is a complicated place, with war and politics and economic strife. Sometimes you just want to get away – but still get home early enough to take the dog for a walk before bed.
Thank goodness for places like the Gaslight Melodrama, a mom-and-pop musical theater in northwest Bakersfield that offers three hours of escape – complete with music, popcorn and belly laughs. The artistic director is Michael Prince, a Highland High kid who set out to be a filmmaker but married into his life’s calling – purveyor of mostly innocent fun.
“We make fun, or as we like to say, we have fun with everybody,” Prince said. “So, there’s no one that we discriminate against. Everybody’s ripe for the pickings.”
It is a simple exercise, really. Cheer the hero, boo the villain – which, unlike in real life sometimes, are clearly defined roles. Booing of course is much more fun. No need to guess the appropriate time to let the bad guy know how you feel – he’ll provide the cues.
“You know, there’s many different maniacal laughs,” Prince said. “There’s the classic ‘Bwwuh-hah-hah-hah!’ Which is always fun. But then you’ll have the villain in a side pocket scene and they’re trying to be sneaky or quiet – ‘Heh-heh-heh!’ So, you know, you gotta have a big bag of tricks.”
For Prince, the guidelines are pretty clear. No politics – that’s the main one, unless you’re lampooning politics in general. For example, no bad guys with orange comb-overs. Or good guys either for that matter.
Prince has written 75 shows in his career thus far, so at a pace of six shows a year, he’s on track to crack the century mark in four years. And although he parodies people and events, he has never been sued or ordered to cease and desist. Although there was the the time he wrote a play about high speed rail coming right through the middle of Oildale and one of the characters was based on a real-life person, Thomas Rockwell, then the owner of the late, great honky-tonk, Trout’s nightclub. Rockwell and his girlfriend tried to get into the final night of the sold-out show, unannounced, Prince said, and were turned away because there wasn’t an empty square inch in the house. Rockwell wasn’t happy. Rockwell’s girlfriend let them have it.
“‘You know who he is?’ I’m like, Oh man! OK,” Prince said.
Like previous Melodramas that came before the Gaslight, the Oildale-based Vaudeville Express and then, also in Oildale, the Melodrama Musical Theater, headed by the late David Zent, Prince and wife Jennifer like to reference actual local places, like Oildale, Rosedale and Stockdale – anything with a”dale.” And that’s the case with the current show, “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Fox.” The all-ages show runs through June 25, Friday and Saturday nights, with Sunday matinees, tickets $27 for adults. The dinner menu – fine dining in the best of Oildale traditions – includes beer, hot dogs and soft drinks.
Prince believes that there’s nothing that a little bit of laughter can’t fix. A lot of laughter, maybe, can fix a lot. News.