There is just something appealing about the name "Johnny Guitar."

It conjures images far beyond a guy drifting into town with a six-string on his hip and meeting up with a pistol-toting female barkeep.

It began, as so many good things do, as an unintentionally funny Western melodrama starring Joan Crawford, and it elicited such wrath from critics when the film debuted that even the Levi's Crawford wore were ridiculed.

In 2004, the movie became an off-Broadway musical written by Nicholas van Hoogstraten, Joel Higgins and Martin Silvestri, who frosted the music and words with the requisite silliness and ended up with an Outer Critics Circle Award for best musical.

Now, a decade later, the musical gets its Bay Area debut at Point Richmond's Masquers Playhouse, which is touting the show as "a must-see for any lover of film, music or fine cheese."

Over the years, the 1954 film version of "Johnny Guitar" has ended up on a number of best-ever lists, and it has gained a surprising veneer of respectability. Some critics actually argue that the movie was something of a commentary of the Joseph McCarthy witch hunts of the '50s, and prominent filmmakers have cited the movie as a truly modern story that inspired them.

However, the musical version of the story about the reunion of Vienna (the Crawford part) and her former lover, Johnny Guitar, and the feud between railroad fans and cattlemen that threatens to destroy the town, will have none of that. Its sole intent is to draw laughs over the square-jawed heroism and offbeat melodramatic acting style that characterized the film.

The Masquers cast features Shay Oglesby-Smith as Vienna and Craig Eychner as her guitar-toting flame, along with Peter Budinger, Mark Enea, Coley Grundman, Michelle Pond, DC Scarpelli, Chaz Simonds and J. Scott Stewart.

Robert Love directs the show; it plays March 28 through April 26 in the theater at 105 Park Place, Point Richmond. Tickets, at $22, may be purchased at 510-232-4031 or www.masquers.org.

"SLEUTH": Anthony Shaffer's classic whodunit opens in previews March 28 at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

The Center Repertory Company production, directed by Michael Butler, features a cast that includes Philip Farrar, Thomas Gorrebeeck, Harold K. Newman, Roger Purnell and Kit Wilder.

For years, "Sleuth" has been one of the finest of stage thrillers. It tells the story of a successful British mystery writer who invites his wife's lover to his mansion and hatches an intricate scheme that supposedly will benefit everyone involved. Of course, it turns into a high-stakes game with twists and turns that land like mosquitoes on a summer night.

Opening night is April 1, and the production runs through April 26. Tickets, at $33-$59, may be reserved at 925-943-7469 or www.centerrep.org.

"JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH": Roald Dahl's fantasy adventure for children, dramatized by Richard R. George, has four public stagings following a series of school performances. Douglas Morrisson Theater has been touring the show while repairs to its home theater in Hayward are ongoing. Public performances to the production, directed by Dawn Monique Williams, are 8 p.m. April 4, 2 and 8 p.m. April 5 and 2 p.m. April 6 at University Theatre at Cal State East Bay in Hayward. Tickets, at $10-$15, may be purchased at 510-881-6777 or www.dmtonline.org. Those using the online address can get a 2 for 1 offer by using the password "peaches."

Contact Pat Craig at pjcraig495@yahoo.com.