Originally Published: June 22, 2007 12:06 p.m.
Click here to listen to an MP3 from the Citrus Valley Playhouse.PRESCOTT - Call it a mix of "Saturday Night Live" and "Prairie Home Companion" made for the stage.The Citrus Valley Playhouse shows at the Elks Opera House every Friday night through the end of July.Mixing nostalgia and topical comedy along the format of old-time radio, the company stabs at all things Arizona with history and satire in "Arpaiopalooza," a five-week series the Phoenixbased company is taking out of the valley and into Prescott for the first time.Radio show-style sound effects and live jazz enhance topical sketch pieces, such as one depicting Andy Griffith's Mayberry if Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was in charge.Arpaio himself appeared on film in a sketch at an earlier run at the Mesa Arts Center.The producers had to tape his bit because Arpaio reportedly was appearing in "Inmate Idol" at the county jail."We try to keep it as contemporary as it needs to be, but a lot of segments we do are real kind of throwbacks," said Brian Nissen, the show's director, star and main writer. One segment, "The Blind Ranger,"spoofs The Lone Ranger as a bumbling western wannabe hero."He's sightless by choice. He wears a sleeping mask because he's trying to sharpen his senses. It wouldn't be fair if he used his eyes because he's so brilliant. But in fact, he's this Peter Sellers kind of character," Nissen said."Arizona Radio News" takes a satirical look at local issues, and the Elks performances likely will reflect a few things Prescott.History, comedy and drama come together in a segment called "The Life and Times of Elliot Powell.""It takes place in the '40s, kind of the golden age of radio, and it's about a family living in the fictional town of Citrus Valley after WWII. The dramatic background of it is the Japanese internment camps in Arizona," Nissen said, describing the piece as an interracial love story."Mullets Over America" is a call-in talk show on "the No. 7-rated radio station in Apache Junction on mulletrelated issues."Nissen grew up in Mesa before moving to Los Angeles, where he was a screenwriter for a company producing animation shorts and features. He then moved back to Mesa with the idea of an old-time radio type show based on Arizona history."He came back here and said he wanted to be the next Garrison Keillor. And I said, 'Garrison Keillor doesn't want to be Garrison Keillor.' I don't get that. He convinced me it would be kind of fun," said Mark Arnett, the show's producer, performer, sound effects coordinator and childhood friend of Nissen's.Nissen and Arnett met in high school while acting and writing for school plays and assemblies."Brian had a couple of qualities about him that would make this show unique. First of all, he is very gifted writer," Arnett said recollecting Nissen pitching the show."I was always thinking about the show. I always wanted to do this kind of thing," Nissen said, adding that he felt more suited to writing sketch comedy than screenplays."I don't like to live with anything for that long. I like to get in and out. I like the speed of more like a 'Saturday Night Live' format, and I love history," he said.Nissen noted that one story in the show focuses on the character of Frank Luke, for whom the Air Force named Luke Air Force Base in Glendale."No one knows who Frank Luke is, and it's a great story - he was a WWI pilot, the first one to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. You could argue that he was one of the guys that turned WWI," he said.Audience members have plenty of opportunity to participate in the show in two segments: "Cactus Factus," a comedy game show, and "Amateur Hour," where Nissen taps volunteers as voice talent for a sketch.Other company players are Ben Tyler, noted for his popular Phoenix production of "Guv," and improvisational musical actress Leah Long.The Dry Heat Trio plays jazz throughout the show.Nissen said the show will have at least 40-percent new content each week.