Review: TOM GUN LIVE Is a High-Flying, Paper Airplane-Launching Ode to Tom Cruise Movies

If you love Tom Cruise movies and live in Los Angeles (or will be visiting soon), here's your chance to play one of his most iconic characters on stage. The team behind Point Break Live and Terminator Too: Judgment Play has a new, no-budget comedy show called Tom Gun Live — but whereas those first two shows only recreated those respective movies beat for beat, Tom Gun Live recreates Top Gun on stage and features intermittent scenes from multiple Cruise films, too. (Hence the "Tom Gun" name, instead of just calling it Top Gun Live.) But this is a highly interactive show, so each night, the person who plays Maverick is actually chosen from the audience.

Let me explain how it works. I attended the first performance of Tom Gun Live at The Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles last week, and the show begins with the host addressing the crowd in costume as Cruise's character from Magnolia. (One guess as to what his opening line is.) The conceit is that Tom Cruise himself is on his way to the show, but he's caught in traffic, so they'll need someone from the crowd to step in and take over until Tom arrives. The host asks anyone who's interested in playing Maverick to come up to the stage, and these brave souls "audition" for the crowd by doing their best Cruise impression. The audience chooses who will be Maverick based solely on the volume of cheering for each person. It's pure democracy at work. The guy who won the role when I was there had a huge beard, so looking like the fresh-faced Maverick isn't necessarily a prerequisite (I'd argue the less you look like him, the funnier the performance might be).

From there, the "movie" begins on the stage, with real actors coming out and playing every other character while the night's Maverick reads lines off cue cards. The show hits all the major beats of the movie, but when they need a little extra time to change costumes or the scenery, the host comes back out and calls the failed auditioners back up to the stage to have their own moment of glory. The crowd chooses which movie they'd like to see a scene from — Rain Man, A Few Good Men, Born on the Fourth of July, Risky Business, Cocktail, and Tropic Thunder — and we see a brief recreation of one scene with a different person playing each Cruise role.

Then it's back to the action of Top Gun. This is the performers' bread and butter, and clearly where the most time and effort has been spent overall. There's a hydraulic fighter jet set up on stage, and during the jet battles in the story, a message comes up on the screen asking the crowd to launch paper airplanes that they make before the show begins. There are sing-a-long sections during "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," "Take My Breath Away," and "Great Balls of Fire," someone ziplines onto the stage during a climactic moment, there's a laugh-out-loud recreation of the volleyball scene that I wouldn't dare spoil for you, and missiles are launched at "jets" flying through the aisles. 

Since I saw the first performance of the show, I expected there might be a few kinks that needed to be worked out. I thought anything that wasn't Top Gun-related felt a little extraneous and slowed down the flow of the show, and some of the transitions could use a little work. Also, anytime the actors wearing the blow-up fighter jets tried to speak, their lines were muffled so badly by the balloons that it was tough to make out what they were saying. And one of the strangest flaws of the whole night was that, despite the near-perfect recreation of much of the film's dialogue, the production misquoted what might be the film's most famous line. (They had the potential Mavericks audition by saying "I have the need...the need for speed" when the line is actually "I feel the need...the need for speed," and they repeated the mistake on the cue card during the "movie" portion of the show.) But again, this was opening night, and this is a show the team plans on doing for a long time to come, so I'm sure they'll have things working even more smoothly for future performances.

There are tremendous moments in here that work like absolute gangbusters, and those far outweigh any small missteps. The guy who plays Iceman (Val Kilmer's role in the movie, played here by Tobias Jelinek) is outstanding, rocking an unbelievable blonde wig and what appeared to be some false teeth. The woman who played the love interest, Charlie (Kelly McGillis in the film, played here by Erika Zabelle), is also excellent, although her part is smaller than I would have liked. In addition to the showstopping volleyball sequence, one of the best aspects was an actor they got to play the version of Tom Cruise who's stuck in traffic. Occasionally the production would play a "live" Skype video of "Cruise" in the backseat of an Uber, and he'd explain to the audience that he was on his way while intermittently swearing at his driver. The actor (Evan Ferrante) does, hands down, the best Cruise impression I've ever seen. It's incredibly impressive.

Tom Gun Live is a creative, hilarious, one-of-a-kind production that'll take your breath away (pun absolutely intended). As of this writing, there are four more shows planned in Los Angeles: an early show (8pm) and a late show (10pm) each on April 29th and May 19th. Get your tickets and find out more at TomGunLive.com.

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