photo by Ryan Fagan

From left, Cyndi LaFrese, Samantha Cormier and Albert Riesgo drink deeply of the Christmas spirit.

About the time you start thinking most of the Christmas jingles you hear are not coming from Santa's sleigh bells but from the disappearing coins in your pocket, that's the time to head for Live Theater Workshop and its holly jolly production with extra berries on top, “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some).”

This secular comedy smash-up directed by Missie Scheffman takes one hundred years of sentimental moments from this best-loved season of treacly treats (especially since the early days of television) and turns them into zippy mincemeat farce (think the Grinch getting a pie in his face). And that's just the first act.

Once the audience has been properly indoctrinated to the possibilities in this blenderized version of commercial Christmas fare, the cast's trio of energized actors comes roaring back out to deliver the most brilliant postmodern re-interpretation of Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” that I've ever seen.

Samantha Cormier commands the stage with a withering impression of curmudgeonly old Scrooge, hunched over with greed and perpetually seething in his desire to keep every penny he has while drooling to acquire still more.

If the playwrights (Michael Carleton, James FitzGerald and John K. Alverez) had asked her, Cormier could have thrown in a little Phantom of the Opera as well as some Jekyll and Hyde.

Playing opposite this focused force of centered selfishness is Cyndi LaFrese in a variety of skit roles ranging from Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future to the haloed angel Clarence hoping to earn his wings in “It's A Wonderful Life.”

Albert Riesgo completes this story-telling team, generally setting up the scenes and serving as the straight man who keeps the production well-paced and holding steady.

While a re-cap of Act One is pretty much impossible because there are so many specific references in a blizzard of swirling non sequiturs, here's the general gist of it.

The stage set is dressed like it is ready for one of those all-purpose Christmas television specials, with a brightly colored tree in the corner and stockings hanging on the hearth.

Cyndi (LaFrese) shouts “Lets get ready to jingle!” and the show is on. Please note, there is some audience participation in the first half. You've been warned.

There are descriptions of curious Christmas traditions from other countries, a long bit mixing the Who family of Grinch fame and a famous baseball routine by Abbot and Costello, a note that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by an ad agency in 1939 and a plethora of other passing pop culture references – including the odd origins of St. Nicholas in the year 241 and the warning “When you stop believing in Santa, that's when you starting getting clothes for Christmas.”

Creating this merry mayhem is LaFrese's time to shine like that tree-topping twinkly star. Her non-stop energy is everywhere, filling every corner of the stage.

If you are one of those people who starts feeling burned out on Christmas music before it gets to be Dec. 1, you may need to see the LTW show twice, at least.

"Every Christmas Story Every Told (And Then Some)” runs through Dec. 27, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd. Tickets are $20, with discounts available. For details and reservations 327-4242, or visit


   photo by Brian Gawne

Santa's workshop is filled with joy now, but it wasn't easy. That "Race" took up the whole play.

Traditionally, the beginning of each Christmas season is marked by the arrival of Thanksgiving. But in Tucson for the past 38 years, the Christmas season is marked by the opening of Gaslight Theatre's Christmas show a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.

Through those decades the shows have ranged from sentimental to silly to literary (a tribute adaptation of Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” used to be an annual Gaslight gift to the community) to more ham on wry.

This year the doughty theater company is returning to its far-flung tale of global Christmas set sometime during the 1930s, “Race to the North Pole.” Here we find a pair of resourceful vaudevillians, Fearless Frazier and Scat Sweeny, fresh out of money in the Big Apple and squarely on the bad side of disenchanted gangsters Max Pommade and his sidekick Knuckles.

All the roles are double and triple cast, but at the performance I attended Fearless was played by Jacob Brown in a bright red plaid blazer, Scat was Jake Coffin in a slightly more subdued red plaid blazer, while the mobster Max (Todd Thompson) was the sartorial topper with a commanding blue pinstripe zoot suit accented with a white carnation.

Knuckles (David Orley) on the other hand, looked like he was going for the Guinness Book of World Records mark for mis-matched apparel.

Joining in as show business entertainers are the singing dancers Sandy (Janee Page) and Dorothy (Erin Thompson), a pair of pretty and perky damsels with some resources of their own.

They team up with Fearless and Scat at the same time the flashy-costumed human cannonball Wilhelm (Mike Yarema) and his lovely assistant Hilda (Heather Stricker) find a mutual kinship in crime with Max and Knuckles – all four of them bitterly hate Christmas.

Well, you can see where this is going, can't you? Keeping all these pinballs bouncing off their holiday bumpers as a kind of show biz ring master is the brassy Broadway promoter Louise (Jacinda Swineheart).

Every Gaslight show is known for its imaginative set designs by Tom Benson. This adventure takes us from mid-town New York to Morocco to Rio de Janeiro to – finally -- the Big Christmas radio show broadcast around the globe with Santa Clause at the North Pole.

For most of the journey, the “race” is to hit all those port cities, solve a lot of problems, do a show and still reach Santa at the North Pole before he has to depart on Dec. 24 in his gift-packed sleigh – as the four who hate Christmas slowly become hip to the true spirit of this heart-warming holiday.

The after-show olio, “Grandma's Country Christmas Jamboree,” opens with “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” closes with “Leroy the Redneck Reindeer,” includes the “Santa Claus Boogie” and saves a little time for Santa's three “Hillbilly Elves” (the ones with low elf-esteem).

We also learn “What's red and green, hangs from the ceiling and goes 'ribbit...ribbit?' – Mistletoad!

Race to the North Pole” runs through Jan. 3, with performances at various times Tuesdays through Sundays (seven days a week in December) at the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway Blvd. Tickets are $18.95 adults; $16.95 seniors, military and students; $8.95 children age 2-12.

For details and reservations, 886-9428,