IT'S "BACK TO THE PAST"
AND THAT DELOREAN TIME MACHINE WILL RIDE AGAIN

Mickey McFry (Jake Chapman) in his time-traveling DeLorean careens into the 1950s and the high school where both his parents are about to graduate. 

Generously adapted from that iconic movie featuring a DeLorean sports car with gull-wing doors, "Back to the Past" now playing at the Gaslight Theatre gets decked out with a more elaborate plot than most Gaslight productions.

All the Gaslight shows are double and triple cast, but Jake Chapman played the time-traveling teen Mickey McFry the night I attended.

Jacob Brown is the eccentric high school science teacher, Professor Jedediah Bunsen, in white lab overalls, who gets Mickey trapped in the past when that iconic DeLorean crashes into Oct 15, 1957.

Of course since the actors onstage are deep into the Gaslight Theatre's favorite decade, the soda shop on stage looks just like the real Little Anthony's Diner right next door to the real Gaslight.

Just to recap a little bit, the story opens in October, 1987, when Mickey's rock band named after Johnny B. Goode gets booked to play the high school's sock hop on Saturday night.

But then, Mickey gets too many detention slips from his teachers. Just when that looks like Mickey's biggest problem, Professor Bunsen's DeLorean shoots Mickey straight back 30 years to October, 1957.

The DeLorean is stuck at Dysfunction Junction and the lingo of adolescent angst from that period includes such suggestions as "Why don't you make like a tree and leave?" and "Why don't you make like a banana and split?"

Professor Bunsen hasn't begun to experiment with time travel  yet, but he is a teacher at the same school and he does have all the keys to the lab.

Far more serious, as far as Mickey is concerned, is learning Mickey's parents are now students at the school and THEY DON'T EVEN LIKE EACH OTHER.

Of course Mickey the time-traveler is still a teen, too, albeit one with funny clothes for someone in the 1950s. But how the heck can Mickey get his parents to even like each other -- much less get married -- so Mickey can be born.

This problem seems possible enough because all the time-travel scenes are done pretty effectively with thunderous sound effects and big splashes of flashing electric blue light.

Also helpful for keeping track of where we are in  time is a TV-like screen above the stage. It tracks the day's date as well as the land speed of the DeLorean. That car must be traveling at exactly 93 miles an hour to make the leap across the years.

At times it did seem like the cast could be suffering from jet lag. None of the musical numbers had the usually zip of a Gaslight show.

The song titles include "Why do Fools Fall In Love," "Why Must I Be a Teenager In Love," "Splash Splash, I was Taking A Bath," and "The Power of Love."

Also in the cast are Janee Page as Mickey's girlfriend Betsy in full skirts and saddle shoes (and also appearing as Betsy's mom, Patsy); Mike Yarema as Verne the patient father of Mickey; Erin Thompson as Lillian, Mickey's mom; and Todd Thompson as Buzz the teen bully in a black leather jacket. Heather Stricker gets extra laughs as Shirley the school secretary.

Gaslight's traditional olio stays in step with a salute to American Bandstand. Page is a heartbreaking Connie Francis singing "Where the Boys Are." David Orley takes the cake as the Big Bopper on "Chantilly Lace."

Page, Thompson and Stricker chime in with a girls' group medley on "It's My Party," "Leader of the Pack" and "My Boyfriend's Back."

Performances of "Back to the Past" continue through June 2, with shows at various times Tuesdays through Sundays in the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway.

Tickets (plus tax) are $22.95 adults; $20.95 seniors, students, military; $12.95 children age 2-12. For details and  reservations, 520-886-9428, or visit www.thegaslighttheatre.com









CZCCCZ
A SPIRITED PRODUCTION OF "ALWAYS...PATSY CLINE"

Amanda Gremel becomes the music of heartfelt singer Patsy Cline.

It's not so much the music of Patsy Cline as it is the spirit of “Always...Patsy Cline” that makes Live Theatre Workshop's production come alive. This tribute showcase penned by Houston playwright Ted Swindley and directed by Annette Hillman becomes a hearty southern hug of female friendship for all time.

The program lists 27 songs spanning a career cut tragically short in 1963 when Cline died at age 30 in an airplane crash. She had a confident voice that projected deep layers of unquestioned sincerity.

Becoming popular at the time when a new wave of feminism was taking over the news cycle, her songs always stood for more than just songs.

Cast in the role is Amanda Gremel, giving each piece her own taste of personality. With her on stage is a five-piece string band led by Harriet Siskin, pianist and music director.

Grenel sings with a disarming directness well-suited to the intimate atmosphere of LTW's performance space.

If you love Patsy Cline, come for the music. But stay for the delightfully energized and hyper-animated performance of Samantha Cormier as the world's most vigorously fortified super-fan, Louise. She is the one who adds the extra hugs and kisses of delight.

As a theatrical feat, Cormier's shenanigans are a wonder of eagerness and immediacy. While it feels like everything is spontaneous and improvised, we also know she is acting. How does she do it?

Historically, Cline had been a Nashville regular for years, then became a national cross-over sensation after her 1961 appearance on “Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts” singing “Walkin' After Midnight.”

Louise was just another cigarette smoking Houston housewife bogged down in marital unhappiness when she first heard Cline's voice in the 1950s. The play begins with that moment when Louise starts talking about how she met Patsy in person and was instantly transformed, dedicating herself to making sure everyone in the whole world knew about Patsy Cline.

So for two hours (plus intermission) Cline sings the songs and Louise tells the bouncy story that became her life's calling. Already hooked by Cline's songs on the radio, Louise was ecstatic in 1962 to learn the singer would soon be playing a Houston concert at the Esquire Ballroom.

Of course Louise got to the venue two hours early with her husband and her boss, long before anyone else arrived. So when Cline popped in to the Esquire by herself, just to look the place over, Louise was the only other female there. They met and the friendship that followed became a life-changing bond of loyalty.

From there on out we follow Cline's career through the eyes of Louise as they shared experiences through a long string of letters which Cline signed “Always, Patsy Cline.”

Among the 27 titles on the program are: “Crazy,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Your Cheatin' Heart,” “Anytime,” “I Fall To Pieces,” “Lovesick Blues,” “She's Got You,” “Seven Lonely Days,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Faded Love,” and from the gospel world “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” and “How Great Thou Art.”

“Always...Patsy Cline” continues through May 11 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd. No performance Easter Sunday, April 21.

Tickets for Thursdays are $15, all others $20 with discounts available. For details and reservations 327-4242, or visit livetheatreworkshop.org

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