The Gaslight Melodrama
Day Trippin' with Mel
November 12, 2022
I pretty much love all forms of live theater; I love going to (and occasionally being in) the plays at the BeeKay Theatre in Downtown Tehachapi. I also love to go out of town to see plays in bigger venues like the Lancaster Performing Arts or even to L.A.
And I love going out of town to smaller venues too, like to the Gaslight Melodrama Theater and Music Hall in Bakersfield.
By the way, a melodrama is defined as a "sensational dramatic piece with exaggerated characters and exciting events..." Read over-the-top acting and action, lots of song and dance, and the best part: audience participation in the form of cheering for the hero and sighing over the heroine and booing at the villain. It's just designed to be a fun evening for all involved, on stage and off.
I've been a fan of melodramas for years, as I was introduced to my first experience in the 80s, at the old Oildale Melodrama. I used to go regularly whenever I visited Kern County, and I've been to the one over at the coast in Oceano a few times too.
Imagine my surprise and joy, then, to discover that melodrama is alive and well in Bakersfield (and has been since 2005) at the Gaslight Melodrama Theater and Music Hall!
The Gaslight is "an old-timey theater featuring family-friendly melodramas and musicals, plus American food, beer and wine," according to their website. Housed in a bright red barn-like structure, the theater is small and intimate. It boasts that it is the "first privately owned performing arts venue [by Jennifer and Michael Prince] to be conceived, designed, financed and constructed as a theater in Bakersfield history." Happily, it is a great success and shows regularly sell out.
I went one recent Sunday afternoon to the Gaslight Melodrama with friends Julee Jackman and Leila Kleiman, to a show called "My Funny Frankenstein." Oh what fun we had!
The show, like many of the melodramas at the Gaslight, was written and directed by one of the actors (unfortunately no playbills were offered so I can't tell you his name) and was full of laughs and song and dance – and much booing and cheering – and humorous references to local places, people, and events. Accompanying the play was a lone piano player, reminiscent of theaters of old.
In addition to the play, we were also treated to an old-time vaudeville review featuring Dracula and his bride (it was a Halloween-themed afternoon, after all).
In true melodrama tradition, the actors took our tickets and worked the snack bar (and sang a song to anyone who put money in the tip jar) and bussed tables afterwards. The snack bar, by the way, has great food (hotdogs, pulled pork sandwiches, baked potatoes, salads, candies, buckets of popcorn, ice cream, sodas, beer and wine, and more).
Doors open 45 minutes before show time, which we put to use getting some of those yummy snacks. Seating is reserved and in groups of four around tiny cocktail tables. The theater is laid out so that there are really no bad seats, but we were happy to have gotten into the second row.
Up next is a Gaslight Holiday Extravaganza, running from Nov. 25 through Dec. 23. If you want to give it a try, I suggest getting tickets early as the shows typically sell out.
To get tickets call (661) 587-3377 or go by the box office at 12748 Jomani Drive. Note: the box office is closed Wednesdays. Online, you can see a seating chart and menu and other information at themelodrama.com.
If you go, the theater is located in northwest Bakersfield at 12748 Jomani Drive. I took the 58 to the 99 and exited onto Rosedale Highway. West on Rosedale to Allen Drive and right (north) on Allen, then a right turn onto Jomani (you can see the red barn from Allen).
Masks are optional and the place is accessible. Chairs are padded straight back chairs. Shows are offered on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Tickets for the upcoming extravaganza are $29 for adults and $27 for children 12 and under, seniors 60 and over and military (all slightly higher than regular prices for other shows through the year). Food is additional.
Julee, Leila and I had a great time with our melodrama experience and hope to go again to another show in the near future. I think you'll enjoy going too – maybe we'll see you there sometime soon!
© 2022 Mel Makaw. Mel is a local writer and photographer and avid day-tripper; she welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at email@example.com.