When Gaslight Theatre (and Music Hall) founder and head honcho Tony Terry thinks about Christmas, he remembers spending time with his family, particularly his father.
The Terry household was one of holiday traditions, he says, as he recounts watching A Christmas Carol every day, reading the book alongside others, family parades to hang stockings—an entirely wholesome scene.
"It was really a great way to grow up," he says. "'It was a really important part of my young life. So when we did our first Christmas show, we of course did A Christmas Carol.
While the theatre's musical version of that particular Christmas classic won't hit the stage until next year, Terry says he is more than happy to drift down memory lane while watching this year's shows: Christmas in the Big Apple and the Gaslight Music Hall Christmas Jamboree.
Down at the theatre (7010 E. Broadway Blvd.), it's the 1933 holiday season in The Big Apple, and the Christmas spirit isn't limited to all of the little girls and boys.
No elves this time around, though "Christmas in the Big Apple" more than makes up for the absence of Jake Chapman dressed as Dudley the Elf.
The ever-energetic Chapman once again finds a way into "the good guy" role as the kind elevator attendant, Jimmy. The young man works for the Pennypacker's Department Store, the Mecca of everything Christmas related in The Big Apple.
But not all is well on the Gaslight stage in this story (a little tension never hurt a story, did it?) in the form of the maniacal Vonda de Cringe, a role played to perfection by Heather Stricker. De Cringe is on a mission to take over the department store and sell the real estate.
Adding fuel to the evil fire, de Cringe plans to take over the store during a particularly trying holiday season. Horace Pennypacker (played by the lovable David Orley), opens the show declaring that the store will have to take out a loan from Archibald (Jake Brown) to keep the ship afloat.
To accomplish her nefarious goal, de Cringe enlists the help of several local degenerates, including the hilarious duo Ace and Moe (the former of which played by my favorite Gaslight comedian, the ever-shimmying Todd Thompson), who are hired to rob the store after a wash of good luck brings in big business.
The ensemble is filled out by a retinue of Gaslight regular faces, including Mike Yarema as Cheswick, Charlie Hall as Moe, Janée Page as Vivian and Erin Thompson as Trixie. The show was written and directed by Peter Van Slyke, with musical direction by Linda Ackerman and outstanding choreography by Katherine Byrnes. (This show featured what I considered the best example of dancing I've seen in a Gaslight show in my two years of attending.)
"I like the time period, I like the '30s," Terry says. "I love the whole tap [dancing] deal; it all harkens back to the old movies I watched when I was a kid. It's just a fun, light little story, but a great story. The hope and the dreams of this young kind trying to make it."
Thompson says that considering each new show is performed roughly 80 times, trying to produce that sense of wonder and amazement felt in the crowd requires a big family behind the curtain.
"As a cast and crew, we are always making sure the people out there are getting what they paid for," Thompson says. "You want that holiday experience. Being a Christmas baby myself, it's fun to be around people all the time. This place is family, we're all family."
The sense of family enjoyed by the goofy crew at the theatre is felt just the same by the team in Oro Valley, at the Gaslight Music Hall.
To celebrate the holiday season on the north side, Tony was looking for a high-energy, revue-type show that harkens back to the variety shows of his own youth.
He found that splendor in the Music Hall, without a doubt.
With the full support of the Gaslight house band behind them, Robert Shaw, Charlie Hall and The Manhattan Dolls put on a two-hour event filled with great tunes, plenty of smiling faces—and a visit from Jolly Ol' St. Nick himself.
While the theatre on Tucson's goofy-Broadway focuses on the story, Terry's Music Hall crew delivered nearly three dozen knockout performances in one night. The show included classics like "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and "Jingle Bell Rock," and even some surprise tunes like "Leroy the Redneck Reindeer."
Having sat through his fair share of performances at both of his venues, Terry says he couldn't be happier with the holiday season this year.
"It's just such a special time, and a really important time for the family," he says. "I like nothing more than sitting at the shows and watching families get closer during the show. They put their arms around their kids, get closer to their loved ones, and it's just such an important time."
The Christmas Jamboree has come to a close, and Christmas in the Big Apple will finish its run on New Year's Eve. The music hall is currently hosting a variety of shows, including Murder in Paradise every Monday evening until March 29. The theatre's next show, The Lone Ranger, will kick off on Friday, Jan. 5. Reservations required, call the music hall at 529-1000 or the theatre at 886-9428 for more information. Tickets can also be found at the gaslighttheatre.com or thegastlightmusichall.com.