Here in Tucson, the lack of leaves changing and snow falling can make it easy to forget that the holiday season is approaching ...
Yeah, right. Despite the lack of frozen precipitation, the holidays are nearly impossible to forget. Music pipes out of speakers at the grocery store. The television shouts advertisements for gifts. And—in these troubled times—economists write anxious opinion pieces about whether holiday shopping will provide a needed boost to retailers.
Here at the Tucson Weekly, we've created a snapshot of holiday-related arts events around town. We can't include everything, so be sure to check the Weekly's listings for a complete selection. A word of caution: Many of the events are tremendously popular, and tickets should be purchased early.
Let's hope these cheery arts traditions can provide you with some much-needed holiday relaxation (or at least a way to keep the relatives busy for an hour or two).
The Gaslight Theatre is staging Christmas in the Big Apple. The musical-comedy revue revolves around a fictional New York department store, Pennypackers, famed for its Christmas decorations.
Set in the 1930s, the show is designed to evoke classic Hollywood Christmas movies. The Depression-era setting was selected on purpose, the Gaslight's Becky Gilmour says, to relate to the "current economic times."
The Christmas shows stick to the Gaslight's signature formula of musical-comedy melodrama, but it's "more nostalgic and character-driven," Gilmour says, with more singing and dancing. The standouts in this show, she boasts, are the tap-dance numbers.
Christmas in the Big Apple runs through Jan. 1 at the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway Blvd. Shows are at 3, 6 and 8:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; noon, 3, 6 and 8:30 p.m., Saturday; and noon, 3 and 7 p.m., Sunday. Holiday schedule: 3 and 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 24; no shows on Christmas Day; 3, 6 and 9:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 31; 12:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 1. Tickets: $7.95 to 17.95, plus sales tax; 886-9428; www.thegaslighttheatre.com.
Speaking of singing and dancing, the Comedy Playhouse is once again performing A Christmas Carol. Dickens' famed holiday narrative has been adapted by local actor James Gooden (who plays Ebenezer Scrooge) to include musical numbers. Despite the additions, Playhouse director Bruce Bieszki promises that the production is still the "classic story of hope and redemption."
A Christmas Carol runs through Friday, Dec. 30, at the Comedy Playhouse, 3620 N. First Ave., Suite 154. Shows are at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 3 p.m., Sunday, with additional shows the week before and after Christmas. No performances on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Tickets: $16 to $18; 260-6442; www.thecomedyplayhouse.com.
Continuing in the family-friendly vein, Beowulf Alley is putting on A Cactus Christmas, the premiere of a script by local playwright (and occasional Weekly contributor) John Vornholt. The play is a whimsical tale of two human desert rats who live in a run-down saloon in Wishbone, Ariz.
A Cactus Christmas runs Dec. 8 through 24 at Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 S. Sixth Ave. A preview show is at 7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 8; opening night is at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday; evening performances are at 7 p.m., Wednesday through Friday. Tickets: $8 to $19; 882-0555; www.beowulfalley.org.
A local tradition continues with Borderlands Theater's A Tucson Pastorela. The beloved production updates the tale of the shepherds' search for the baby Jesus. Gertie and the T.O. Boyz provide live waila music; at the Leo Rich Theater at the Tucson Convention Center, Thursday through Sunday, Dec. 15 through 18 (www.borderlandstheater.org). Invisible Theatre presents the raucous comedy My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish, I'm Home for the Holidays on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 19 and 20, at Berger Performing Arts Center (www.invisibletheatre.com). Both of these shows will be previewed in the Dec. 15 Tucson Weekly.
One of Tucson's signature holiday events is Christmas at San Xavier, a concert by Sons of Orpheus, an all-male chorus, with the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus.
Six concerts take place at Mission San Xavier del Bac. Over the course of 15 years, the Orpheus concerts have raised $2 million for the church's renovation.
Hearing music in a place infused with so much history is what makes the San Xavier concerts so memorable. Sons of Orpheus director Grayson Hirst likes to show his singers a piece of San Xavier graffiti dating to 1790. "I tell them, 'They were still building here when Mozart was alive!'"
The San Xavier concerts offer up a "polished and gemlike hour of music," Hirst says, consisting entirely of sacred music. (Think "O Holy Night" and "Ave Maria.")
If you prefer secular pieces mixed in with your carols, try the Sons of Orpheus concert at the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. Benefiting the Community Food Bank, the show features kids from the school, along with a mariachi band and soloist Lindsey McHugh, a school alum.
Admission is free, but organizers suggest a donation of a nonperishable food item or money for the Community Food Bank. This year, with so many struggling, the Food Bank's resources are strained, Hirst notes.
Christmas at San Xavier is presented at 6 and 8 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 13, 14 and 15, at Mission San Xavier del Bac, 1950 W. San Xavier Road. Tickets are $90. Seats for the three 6 p.m. shows are sold out; tickets for the 8 p.m. concerts were still available at press time; 407-6130; www.sonsoforpheus.org.
Sons of Orpheus and the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind present a Holiday Benefit Concert for the Community Food Bank at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the Berger Center for the Performing Arts, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. Donation of a nonperishable food item or money for the food bank is suggested. Visit www.sonsoforpheus.org.
The Southern Arizona Women's Chorus is also putting on its annual holiday concert, A Holiday Twist.
"This year, we have a 'Dravidian Dithyramb,' which is an East Indian celebration dance," says director Terrie Ashbaugh. It's "an Iraqi song of peace with cello accompaniment (and) many Jewish songs of celebration."
Concert staples include a carol sing-along at intermission, Ashbaugh says, including the "The Twelve Days of Christmas," Tucson-style.
Southern Arizona Women's Chorus presents A Holiday Twist at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9, at Ascension Lutheran Church, 1220 W. Magee Road; and 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 11, at Crowder Hall, in the UA School of Music, 1020 E. University Blvd. Tickets are $18 to $20; 404-3148; www.southernarizonawomenschorus.org.
Another mix of traditions is the Tucson Chamber Artists' Traditional Lessons and Carols by Candlelight.
"What makes it different from other holiday concerts is that it's not a pops concert, but it's not a church service, either," music director Eric Holtan says. Instead, songs and readings, performed as "spoken vignettes," highlight the Christmas story, and the audience is invited to sing along.
Tucson Chamber Artists presents Traditional Lessons and Carols by Candlelight at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 17; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 18, at St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Church, 4440 N. Campbell Ave. Tickets: $20 to $30; 401-2651; tucsonchamberartists.org.
Finally, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra gets into the holiday spirit with two performances of Handel's Messiah, the 1742 choral work that's long been a staple of the season. Conducted by Bruce Chamberlain, the TSO Chorus belts out the "Hallelujah" chorus and other beloved passages in the oratorio. This year's soloists are soprano Misook Yun, mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule, tenor Jason Baldwin and baritone Noel Bouley.
The orchestra goes more pop in TSO's Holiday Spectacular. Dancers from Tucson Regional Ballet perform selections from A Southwest Nutcracker, and the accomplished high school musicians of Mariachi Aztlan de Pueblo High School spice up the show with Mexican rhythms. The symphony plays holiday favorites, and concertgoers are invited to chime in on the carols.
Tucson Symphony Orchestra presents Handel's Messiah at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 10; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 11, at Catalina Foothills High School, 4300 E. Sunrise Drive. Tickets: $40 to $50. TSO and friends present Holiday Spectacular at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 17; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 18, at the Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets: $25 to $104; 882-8585; www.tucsonsymphony.org.