Chris Bowler

You likely haven’t seen a show like the ones The Black Mustache Old-Fashioned Melodrama Company has cooked up.

“Melodrama is all about audience participation. Participants boo the villain, cheer for the hero, sigh for the heroine, and shout anything else out they may want the actors to hear,” says Marcus Ellsworth, co-founder of the new ensemble. “Our melodramas crash through the fourth wall. You never know who will get pulled up on stage or when you’ll have a villain climbing over you to hide in the seats. You essentially become part of the show.”

Patrons are greeted before each show by costumed actors in character and led in a sing along and practice booing. In 19th-century style, the entire show is accompanied by a ragtime pianist whose playing punctuates and cues audience reaction.

Tickets are on sale now for the troupe’s first production, “The Pitiful Plight of Poor Penniless Pauline or Gold Is Where You Find It.” It runs weekends through Feb. 1 at the new Tuscany Theatre in Gilbert.

The old-timey concept isn’t entirely new to Ellsworth and his family. The Black Mustache is the descendant of Sweet Nell’s Melodrama Theatre of Taylor, Ariz., a 1990s enterprise owned by the Ellsworths.

“Sweet Nell’s melodramas played to sold-out audiences for four summers with original melodramas written by Elaine Ellsworth, our mother. As the family moved away, the theater closed,” says Ellsworth.

He and his sister, Julie Clement, two of the eight Ellsworth children, launched The Black Mustache Old-Fashioned Melodrama Company specifically for the Tuscany Theatre, the just-opened home of another longtime enterprise of theirs: Actors Youth Theatre. The pair co-founded that non-profit performing arts organization in 2003. Over the years, it’s provided opportunities for people of all ages to develop acting, dancing and musical talents through workshops, community outreach and theatre productions.

Ellworth, who serves as artistic director for both troupes, says The Black Mustache will use scripts from the old Sweet Nell’s theater, along with new original scripts by Elaine.

“Our mother truly has a talent for the genre. Her wit and knack for spinning adventure makes these original scripts fresh and hilarious,” he says.

Ellsworth, who performed as a youth at Sweet Nell’s and later graduated with a masters degree in theater for youth from ASU, acts in the shows, too, along with a mixture of local, invited talent, alumni of Actor’s Youth Theatre and the Ellsworth family. Future shows will be auditioned as needed.

The current production, about “Penniless Pauline,” is 90 minutes of laughs.

“The cast of seven includes a villainous ranch hand and hotel owner duo who try to swindle ownership of a ranch with a hidden gold mine from the poor, now fatherless, Pauline,” says Ellsworth. “But a handsome stranger named Tom, along with the timid deputy and overbearing sheriff’s wife, attempt to foil their plans.”

It all takes place in an intimate theater with 120 tiered, movie theater-style seats. Costumes and sets are period-appropriate, mimicking turn-of-the-century theater.

The current production will be followed Feb. 6 through March 29 by “Monsters of the Yukon or Grandma What Big Ears You Have,” with a dramatic sawmill ending Ellsworth says makes for “one of our funniest and most exciting shows ever.”

If you go

What: “The Pitiful Plight of Poor Penniless Pauline or Gold Is Where You Find It,” the inaugural show from the new Black Mustache Old-Fashioned Melodrama Company.

When: 7 p.m. Fridays, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays, through Feb. 1

Where: The Tuscany Theatre, 861 N. Higley Road, Gilbert

Cost: $16 for adults, $14 for seniors, $10 for children 12 and younger

Information: (480) 334-4003 or

Contact writer: (480) 898-6818 or

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