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Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
‘Flight’ delivers a turbulent-free ride

Gaslight Theatre tries too hard to deliver moral for ‘Christmas’

By Leigh E. Rich

The slogan of the Gaslight Theatre’s latest melodrama, “The Flight Before Christmas”—and, perhaps, the theater itself—is that “you gotta believe in the happy ending.” Founded by a UA student in 1977, The Gaslight (which originally survived a chilly response in Alaska) continues to bring Dudley Do-Right entertainment to the Tucson territory.

After its inaugural production in Alaska in the summer of 1977, founder Terry Tony, Jr. moved his melodrama theater back to the desert. The Gaslight now resides in the old Jerry Lewis Theatre at the corner of Broadway and Kolb, and its popularity as well as Little Anthony’s Diner next door (a recent addition to the theater) are evidence of its success.

The melodrama was originally a romantic stage play intermixed with orchestra accompanied songs. It has grown into the exaggerated drama saturated with pellucid emotions and stereotypical characters that we know today. The characters and the plot are clearly demarcated along the lines of good and evil—and there is no in-between.

The melodrama may not be Shakespeare, it may not expose its audience to intricate characters encompassing both dualities simultaneously like Henry V, but it is definitely entertainment. Leave your opera gloves and any theater etiquette at the door, and be prepared to cheer for the heroes and boo and hiss at the villains. The Gaslight even furnishes never-ending baskets of popcorn (unequivocally popped in oil and laden with movie theater butter), and you can order any menu item from the diner. This is not theater for the pent-up and straitlaced.

“The Flight Before Christmas” (or “Coming Home On a Wing and a Prayer”) tells the story of Rosie Hobson and Gladys Borland, wives waiting for their husbands to return from World War II. Set in Hometown, U.S.A. in 1945, the play is permeated with the naivete, innocence and patriotism of the era. Gladys, as a result of Uncle Sam’s “I need your skills in a war job” plea to all women, works in the factory owned by Rosie’s sinister (and flat-footed) brother-in-law, Norman. Rosie runs her husband’s garage while he’s away, rationing the precious gasoline to her fellow town members.

“The Flight Before Christmas” is a lighthearted reminder of the happy reunions and devastating news at the close of the war. While husbands and sons fought on the battlefields of Europe, loved-ones back home took over daily activities and lived on rations. In the play, it is clearly a woman’s world. Rosie survives by the motto, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” And the typical conversations of the day always included, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

The Gaslight Theatre turns one of America’s darkest hours, however, into a delectable diversion for an evening. The set designs by Tom Benson (who has been with the theater since its inception) are lavishly rich in detail and help to create the 1945 atmosphere as much as the strong cast of characters. And although much of the plot and its humor are corny and sweet, there is real emotion underneath. The characters are stereotypical (as in any good melodrama), but they are certainly not flat.

The members of The Gaslight Theatre Company set out to entertain, and they seem to have a grand time doing it. There are amusing olios (medleys of musical numbers) before and after the show, all of which are accompanied by enduring pianist Carrie Mineck. And the show itself is replete with the holiday season spirit. Bring a friend, a child or a significant other to “The Flight Before Christmas” and share a Grandma Tony’s pizza. It might be the only chance you’ll get to see snow on Christmas eve.

Rich, L.E. (1995, December 7). ‘Flight’ delivers a turbulent-free ride. Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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