THE MIGHTY WURLITZER IS RISING UP AT THE FOX
Make way for the Mighty Wurlitzer theater organ that's going public in Tucson.

After waiting more than 15 years for this magical moment, the Fox Tucson Theater's powerful console will rise up from below stage on a hydraulic lift to make its official debut Saturday, April 13, at 7:30 p.m.

In command at those banks of keys and stops is veteran Wurlitzer organist Ron Rhode, a performer with more than four decades of pipe organ experience playing in the “traditional” theater organ style. His legacy includes more than 20 award winning recordings.

According to the American Theatre Organ Society, Rhode has “played virtually every major theater organ installation in the world.” He continues to perform regularly throughout the United States, Canada, England and Australia.

At this auspicious Fox Tucson debut, Rhode will accompany the screening of Buster Keaton's 1920 silent film “One Week” (ranked with an 8.2 on the Internet Movie Data Base), then provide the backdrop for a performance by mariachi favorites Los Changitos Feos de Tucson.

The Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation is staging this occasion as a fund-raising event supporting the $100,000 needed for the instruent's full restoration to add additional pipes and provide yearly maintenance, as well as continuing a program of regularly scheduled free and low-cost public concerts.

This Wurlitzer is a 1922 model, four-manual, 27 rank instrument donated to the Fox Foundation in 2002 by Dr. Malin Dollinger. It is a larger instrument than most movie theater Wurlitzers of the time. The restoration process included dissembling, cleaning, adjusting, repairing or replacing all the parts with vintage or reproduction pieces.

In a press release the Foundation stated “the console will be updated with a contemporary, solid-state control system resulting in a modern, user-friendly and reliable instrument that will be capable of digital recording and playback.”

The original Wurlitzer theater organ installed at the Fox Tucson when it opened on April 11, 1930, eventually fell into disrepair and was sold for parts in the 1950s. The present organ's hydraulic lift housed under the stage was built in 2005 during the theater's restoration.

The Wurlitzer theater organ concept, originally named the Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra, was devised by an Englishman, Robert Hope-Jones, early in the 20th century. These differ from church organs by having various modifications and an electrified switch system which permits many combinations of pipes and sound effects such as birds, trains, pistol shots, car horns, horse hooves, rain and thunder.

With such versatility, the Unit Orchestra became instantly popular for accompanying silent movies. When Hope-Jones was bought out by the Rudolph Wurlitzer organ company, the Mighty Wurlitzer was born.

Tickets for this debut performance, the first at the Fox in 60 years, are $25. VIP tickets for $75 include an opportunity to view the organ up close during an on-stage, post-show reception including a Meet & Greet with organist Ron Rhode and Grahame Davis, president of Pipe Organ Artisans, who directed this restoration,

Purchase tickets at the Fox Tucson Theatre box office, 17 W. Congress St., or visit www.foxtucson.com



A SPIRITED PRODUCTION OF "ALWAYS...PATSY CLINE"

Amanda Gremel becomes the music of heartfelt singer Patsy Cline.

It's not so much the music of Patsy Cline as it is the spirit of “Always...Patsy Cline” that makes Live Theatre Workshop's production come alive. This tribute showcase penned by Houston playwright Ted Swindley and directed by Annette Hillman becomes a hearty southern hug of female friendship for all time.

The program lists 27 songs spanning a career cut tragically short in 1963 when Cline died at age 30 in an airplane crash. She had a confident voice that projected deep layers of unquestioned sincerity.

Becoming popular at the time when a new wave of feminism was taking over the news cycle, her songs always stood for more than just songs.

Cast in the role is Amanda Gremel, giving each piece her own taste of personality. With her on stage is a five-piece string band led by Harriet Siskin, pianist and music director.

Grenel sings with a disarming directness well-suited to the intimate atmosphere of LTW's performance space.

If you love Patsy Cline, come for the music. But stay for the delightfully energized and hyper-animated performance of Samantha Cormier as the world's most vigorously fortified super-fan, Louise. She is the one who adds the extra hugs and kisses of delight.

As a theatrical feat, Cormier's shenanigans are a wonder of eagerness and immediacy. While it feels like everything is spontaneous and improvised, we also know she is acting. How does she do it?

Historically, Cline had been a Nashville regular for years, then became a national cross-over sensation after her 1961 appearance on “Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts” singing “Walkin' After Midnight.”

Louise was just another cigarette smoking Houston housewife bogged down in marital unhappiness when she first heard Cline's voice in the 1950s. The play begins with that moment when Louise starts talking about how she met Patsy in person and was instantly transformed, dedicating herself to making sure everyone in the whole world knew about Patsy Cline.

So for two hours (plus intermission) Cline sings the songs and Louise tells the bouncy story that became her life's calling. Already hooked by Cline's songs on the radio, Louise was ecstatic in 1962 to learn the singer would soon be playing a Houston concert at the Esquire Ballroom.

Of course Louise got to the venue two hours early with her husband and her boss, long before anyone else arrived. So when Cline popped in to the Esquire by herself, just to look the place over, Louise was the only other female there. They met and the friendship that followed became a life-changing bond of loyalty.

From there on out we follow Cline's career through the eyes of Louise as they shared experiences through a long string of letters which Cline signed “Always, Patsy Cline.”

Among the 27 titles on the program are: “Crazy,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Your Cheatin' Heart,” “Anytime,” “I Fall To Pieces,” “Lovesick Blues,” “She's Got You,” “Seven Lonely Days,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Faded Love,” and from the gospel world “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” and “How Great Thou Art.”

“Always...Patsy Cline” continues through May 11 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd. No performance Easter Sunday, April 21.

Tickets for Thursdays are $15, all others $20 with discounts available. For details and reservations 327-4242, or visit livetheatreworkshop.org

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