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Harmony and Happy Days

The evening of April 11, 1930, was a memorable one for Tucson. There were free trolley rides downtown, along with live bands and dancing. Approximately 3,000 people joined in the party to celebrate the opening of the Fox Tucson Theatre.

The movie of the evening was Chasing Rainbows, with Bessie Love, Charles King and Jack Benny. The film featured the song "Happy Days Are Here Again." With dancing in the streets and a crowded theater, one can imagine it was a happy time.

During its initial 44-year run, the grand theater showed movies, opened its doors to the Mickey Mouse Club and was a center of Tucson's World War II War Bond campaign. As competition grew and Tucson expanded away from downtown, the theater was forced to close in 1974. According to the Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation, The Godfather: Part II was one of the final films to be shown.

In the years between 1974 and its reopening, citizens fought to save the Fox from the wrecking ball. In 1999, the Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation bought the building. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. And after years of work by volunteers, the foundation (directed by Herb Stratford), the city of Tucson and many others, the Fox reopened on Dec. 31, 2005.

Now almost a year after the Fox's revival, Tucson Desert Harmony--a women's a cappella chorus--is going to present a musical history of the Fox. At 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28, the chorus will sing songs that chronicle what happened at and around the Fox from 1930 to its closing. The guest quartet will be A Cappella Gold. Tickets are $12 for the matinee and $17 for the evening show, available at the Fox Box Office, ticketmaster.com or by calling 321-1000. For more information, visit www.tucsondesertharmony.org.

The chorus began as Tucson Goodtimes Singers in 1986 with approximately 20 members. "Between two and three years ago, the name changed to reflect more of what we were in the community," says member Suzanne Faustlin.

Faustlin was a member of Tucson Horizon Chorus, a group that disbanded and then merged with Tucson Goodtimes Singers. The combination of the two became Tucson Desert Harmony, a professional show chorus. Now there are 85 members ranging in age from 13 into the 80s, with several mothers and daughters in tow. Occupations range from housewives to business owners to retirees. Three original members of Tucson Goodtimes Singers are still on the risers, says Faustlin.

The chorus, directed by Dayle Ann Cook, sings with no musical accompaniment and is divided into lead, tenor, baritone and bass singers. "It's a unique harmony," says Faustlin. " We sing within a limited range of notes. ... It's a barbershop-harmony type of situation. ... All four parts sing so it sounds like one voice. We sing with one voice, because we eliminate the tremolo (vibrato-like) sound. You have to learn to hear it, understand it and sing it." She adds that many of the singers do not read music.

The chorus is a member of Sweet Adelines International, an organization of women singers who seek to promote the musical form of barbershop harmony. Tucson Desert Harmony competes in the Sweet Adelines Southwest Region 21 competition. Earlier this year, they won second place in a contest of 15 choruses. They sing many types of music including Broadway shows, patriotic, contemporary and country.

During the second half of the Fox concert, Tucson Desert Harmony will perform "Sweet Adelines-approved songs that can be used in competition," says Faustlin. These will include "Sweet Georgia Brown" (a sample can be heard on the group's Web site), "Seasons of Love," "Send Your Love" and "Harmony."

But the main focus of the show will be "music right out of events that happened at the Fox or around the Fox," explains Faustlin. "Two narrators will relate the music to events impacting the theater."

The chorus will sing "Happy Days Are Here Again" from Chasing Rainbows. Other songs on the program from films that were shown at the Fox include the title songs from Puttin' on the Ritz and Red River Valley.

"With Plenty of Money and You," from the 1937 film Plenty of Money and You, captures the theater's philanthropic spirit in its early years of existence. "They offered help and support to those in need," says Faustlin. "You could buy a movie ticket and have a chance to win money--up to $100 if you held the winning ticket.

"The Tucson Mickey Mouse club began a month after the Fox opened. We are going to sing 'Minnie's Yoo Hoo,' the song sung by the Mickey Mouse Club of Tucson."

The chorus will sing a medley of military songs to reflect the theater's role during World War II. "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" and a song about the rodeo will be sung to reflect the flavor of Tucson. More songs will be on the program that capture the spirit of the Fox--a theater still shining 76 years after its first Rainbow.

More by Irene Messina

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