By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
photo by Brian Gawne
Santa's workshop is filled with joy now, but it wasn't easy. Took them the whole play to get there.
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, www.thegaslighttheatre.com