photo from Broadway in Tucson

The fabled vigor of "Hamilton" fills the national touring company that's playing in Centennial Hall. Now we know what all the fuss has been about.

It's true, the first national touring production of “Hamilton” to reach Tucson is worthy of the Lin-Manuel Miranda show's barrier-shattering reputation world wide.

Everything good that you've heard about the breakthrough rap dialogue and defiant hip hop rhythms of this multi-cultural hit drawn from our nation's history are all up there on the Centennial Hall stage at the University of Arizona.

The voices are strong and the sound is good. That towering, whacked-out stage design by David Korins looks exactly like it does in all the Broadway photos of this barn burner.

Stretching wide from wing to wing, defined by the brown-toned wood scaffolding and stretched out stairways, balconies and railings, the silent details add a somber enormity to the soaring scale of such a larger than life spectacle.

There is plenty of room for the remarkably agile cast of 25 actors, singers and dancers to fill. And fill it they do.

Julius Thomas III is in complete control as Alexander Hamilton, bulging with brilliance and ambition to match. Equaling his talent is Donald Webber, Jr., playing Aaron Burr.

Polar opposites in their objectives as energetic young firebrands that history has put upon the threshold of America's founding, they are also motivated by opportunities of wealth defying an ordinary imagination.

You don't need to know much about history to appreciate “Hamilton.” Miranda didn't set out to tell a story about one of our lesser-celebrated forefathers so much as he wanted to create an emotional experience on stage, driven by muscular music powered by street rhythms of compelling urgency.

Key to this heart-felt frenzy is the swirling choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler. There are no still moments. For a full two hours and forty five minutes the music is nearly continuous, generating a throbbing thrusting feeling, like everyone is moving with purpose, having a definite place to go.

For sure it's no place for people to just sit around talking. The program lists 34 separate musical numbers, rolling across the stage like waves of emotion, each one building on the last one, sweeping crescendos pushing us toward the one historical moment everyone does know – Hamilton's fatal dual with Burr, his nemesis.

Just know, this is no warmed-over road show reproduction. The Broadway heart of “Hamilton” is shining in Tucson. This one feels fresh and strong and vigorous.

Broadway in Tucson has also worked out the mechanics of moving people through its COVID protocols. Be sure to have document proof of you vaccinations or a negative COVID test result in the last 72 hours. Also bring a comfortable mask, which must be worn at all times (except when eating or drinking).

There's also a list of items you can't bring, such as large handbags. Check the Broadway in Tucson website for the full requirements. Arrive about an hour before curtain to avoid that rushed feeling.


photo by Gawne

Mamma Clause (Ruthie Hayash) and Santa Clause (David Orley) encourage their tall elf Dudley (Randall Walter) to go for it.

If you think that joyful Christmas spirit comes in a bottle – you could be correct, sir! At least in so far as the Gaslight Theatre gang is concerned in their holiday special “Elf'd.”

This stage theatrical does bear some resemblance to the movie that's so similarly named. At least, the elf costumes are similar and Santa Clause looks almost exactly the same as he does on the big screen.

As for the bottle, that's a uniquely Gaslight invention. A slender container smaller than a Coke bottle is filled with a secret formula for Christmas Spirit, cleverly devised by Dudley, the only human ever raised by the industrious little people who run Santa's workshop at the North Pole.

At the Gaslight, all the shows are double and triple cast, so at the performance I attended, Dudley was played by Randall Walter. Dudley is a curious human, orphaned at birth, now determined to meet his true father, who turns out to be a captain of industry living at the top of a tall building in New York City.

Dastardly forces led by hulking Brad Hawkins (Mike Yarema) in an intimidating dark gray overcoat are determined to destroy every child's Christmas happiness by seizing control of the North Pole's toy making facilities, thus bringing all the workshop's output to a complete halt!

Only by using the meanest Yuletide chicanery imaginable, Hawkins has taken control of that little bottle of Christmas Spirit.

That's about all of the plot you need to know. This is the Gaslight Theatre, after all, where a happy ending is guaranteed at every performance.

Wally (Jacob Brown) is gloweringly good as Hawkins' evil associate. So is Heather Stricker as Hawkins' ambitious secretary.

Joining forces on the sweet side of this snowy conflict are Erin Thompson as Polly the most optimistic elf ever. She keeps pumping up insecure Dudley, insuring him he is definitely not a “fluffer nutter noodle noggin.”

Janee Page is the tough New Yorker trying to get hired as a department store elf for Christmas. She even has her own elf costume. Which pretty much convinces Dudley she really is another human elf, just like him.

Ruthie Hayashi, meanwhile, brings genuine maternal warmth to her role as Mama Claus.

Caught in the middle is Todd Thompson as Billy, who just wants to do the right thing.

David Orley gets the plum role of Santa, with his big laugh, bigger beard and resplendent red velvet suit trimmed in white.

While most Christmas plays hold off on introducing Santa until the very end, in “Elf'd” Santa makes an early appearance and pops up frequently during the show, which is always extra fun for all the children.

Just in case you are still not feeling the full-on Gaslight Happy Holidays, mistletoe and pumpkin-pie-in-the-oven joyfulness yet, the aftershow olio takes us back to that long-ago December in the big-box-small-screen television era of the Andy Williams Christmas Special.

Yes, of course there is a special number for knee-high elves who sing, and another for singing reindeer with cloven hooves and black noses.

Jokes? Well, sure. The woman who was obsessed with everything Christmas was diagnosed as being “too Santa-mental.”

While the little kid who ate all the decorations for the Christmas Tree ended up with “tinsel-itis.”

Meanwhile, the even smaller child who was fearfully afraid of Santa came down with “Claus-trophobia.”

Can you hear the laughter? I guess you just have to be there.

“Elf'd” continues through Jan. 2 with multiple daily performances most days. Reservations are absolutely necessary.

None of the actors are masked, but all of the staff wear masks at all times. Audience members may unmask to eat and drink.

For ticket details and full COVID requirements, go to www.thegaslighttheatre.com, phone 886-9428, or visit the Gaslight Theatre box office, 7010 E. Broadway.