HERE'S OLD-FASHIONED FUN "ROCKIN' AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE"
Clockwise around Santa (Jesus Limon) are Brian Paradis, Samantha Cormier, Brittany Mazur and Jeremy Vega.
The Gaslight Music Hall's expanded olio format is taking on more of its own identity with the second of these olio-type productions at the new northwest side venue.
“Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” is written, directed and choreographed by Katherine Byrnes.
She has strung together 28 joyfully secular songs of the season, performed by a sunny quintet of singers backed by a bouncy band called the Reindeer Rockers, led by Hurricane Carla Brownlee.
Christmas at the Gaslight is all about celebrating those holiday songs that last forever. The more years we've heard each one of them, the more memories they hold.
The singers are Brittany Mazur, Samantha Cormier, Brian Paradis, Jeremy Vega and Jesus Limon. Paradis does double duty as the Master of Ceremonies.
Developing into a nice Gaslight tradition is the pause half-way through the first act to invite all the children in the audience to come up on stage to do a little performing themselves. A group sing-along is the order of the day, and so is an on-stage photo opportunity.
This being the yuletide time and all, every child receives a bright red Rudolph nose to wear. Parents are encouraged to whip out their smartphone cameras to snap away while the whole gang sings “Jingle Bell Rock.”
At both Gaslight venues there is one iconic figure nearly as important as Santa himself. Of course, that is Elvis. His spirit appears on this stage in a white jump suit sort of affair to sing both “White Christmas' and “Blue Christmas.”
Not to be forgotten is the “Hee-Haw” side of humor represented by an Appalachian section led by Homer and Jethro. Bib overalls and dresses made from cotton feed sack cloth patterns were the fashion.
Limon also got his own spotlight moment and a big festival sombrero to sing “Feliz Navidad.”
A nice touch using the theater's rear-screen projection showed black-and-while photos of World War II era soldiers celebrating Christmas as best they could in a foreign land, set to the song “I'll Be Home For Christmas.”
It is a point of pride in these olio shows also to include some corny jokes – or as they are more professionally known, “one-liners.”
For example, “What do elves do when they get home from school?” “Gnome-work.”
Or, how about this. “What is the difference between a knight and one of Santa's reindeer?”
“The knight can be slayin' a dragon while the reindeer can be draggin' a sleigh.”
“Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” continues through Dec. 23, with performances at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays; 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Fridays; noon and 3 p.m. Sundays at the Gaslight Music Hall, 13005 N. Oracle Road.
Tickets are $19.95 adults; $17.95 students, seniors and military; $9.95 for children age 2-12. For details and reservations, 520-529-1000, or thegaslightmusichall.com
"A CHRISTMAS CAROL" WITH EXTRA HELPINGS OF HEART
James Gooden is Ebenezer Scrooge.
Everybody knows the story of Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol.” It is a natural part of our British American heritage.
Starting with Scrooge living in bitterness isolated as an oyster, followed by the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future who put a human face on the holiday, and then the beloved transformation of Scrooge himself – right before our eyes.
We love the story as much as we love hearing “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house....”
Way out on Tanque Verde Road at the APCOT theater, a co-production of “A Christmas Carol” by Roadrunner Theatre Company and Standing O Entertainment calls on the audience to bring their own love and imagination of this spoken carol to a bare bones production adapted and directed by Nick Seivert that glows with the Christmas spirit.
Without benefit of much in the way of lighting and stage sets, an eager cast led by veteran thespian James Gooden as Ebenezer Scrooge makes every familiar scene believable enough through the sheer force of its own will.
There is just enough of a clue in the stage sets of each scene on this familiar journey – flying over snow-capped rooftops, visiting young Scrooge when he gets dumped by his sweet girlfriend, the haunted graveyard and that triumphant transformation at the end – that your heart will still go out to Tiny Tim when he declares “God bless us, every one.”
Gooden has performed this role many times with other Tucson companies. He knows the character of Scrooge inside and out, all the frustrations, all the fears of being poor, and most importantly, all the regret of having let so much of his life slip by as he forged in his own heart every heavy link of that iron chain just like the one Jacob Marley was dragging around.
Adding to the production's pleasure are a number of songs that occur naturally enough in the proceedings, with lyrics that carry the story along. This adaptation was first performed at Tucson's Great American Playhouse in 2013. The cast includes several performers who were in that production.
Mike Conrad is excellent as the patiently positive Bob Cratchit, his pure holiday spirit balancing Scrooge's negativity. Michael Claridge brought enormous energy as both Fezziwig and the exuberant Ghost of Christmas Present, filling the APCOT stage with his own presence.
Matthew Pieri, Jody Darling and the other cast members (several of them children) were true to their roles and so likeable it was easy to feel the generosity of their characters.
Musical accompaniment is provided by pianist Lindsey McHugh, the show's music director, who also leads the audience in singing Christmas songs before each performance.
“A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 24, with performances at 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, plus a special 3 p.m. show on Christmas Eve, at the APCOT theater, 8892 E. Tanque Verde Road.
Tickets are $20 adults, $17.50 seniors 65-plus, $12.50 children age 2 to 11. For details and reservations, 520-207-2491, or visit roadrunnertheatrecompany.org