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Sex, Laughs and Cabaret

"Naughty or Nice" is part of Oregon Cabaret Theatre's Late Night Series for a reason. Decidedly naughty — what used to be considered a burlesque show — it's a bit relentless on pushing sex in your face. But if laughs are any indication, the capacity audience doesn't mind a bit.

The two boiler-plate sex icons, Alonzo Moore, often nearly au naturel, and Shaeney Johnson, always a bit too giggly and jejeune (think Marilyn Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"), tend to steal the show and eclipse equally capable talents, especially the tall and elegant Juliana Wheeler. When she delivers a scorching torch song, "Always True to You," near the show's end, you think, "OK, where was she all this time?"

Christopher George Patterson is a great, side-splitting, tap-dancing elf, and Mark Barsekian delivers a convincing Grinch. Barsekian also gives us a tutorial on what makes some language naughty, when almost identical words are quite nice. He beautifully backs up Juliana.

The band, with many familiar faces — Paul Jenny, Tom Freeman, Karl Iverson and Jay Jorgenson — serves as a great foundation to the show, especially with Jenny's accomplished jazz and blues licks on "The Christmas Song." Audiences love his authoritative bluesy singing, which has served Ashland for decades.

The promos for "Naughty or Nice" call it "fun for all the big kids," but leave your visiting grandmother at home unless she's accustomed to major bumps and grinds. But that is what a cabaret is known for, if you think back to Kurt Weill and Berlin between the world wars.

Johnson, a warbler with the Rogue Suspects and familiar face in OCT productions, does that 1950s Eartha Kitt classic, "Santa Baby," with all the teasing innuendo of the original. And it's adorable.

But it's the same "dumb blonde" archetype. C'mon Johnson (and directors), give us new dimensions of this woman's considerable talents and give the stage to others. Like Natasha Harris, who performs with stunning presence in "I Want to Be Evil" — a transformation from a dirndl-wearing maid to a fiery vamp.

Kymberli Colbourne, someone who knows what she's doing under the spotlight, delivers a hilarious and professionally commanding skit as the spiteful Ms. Christmas Carol.

The show isn't all about "Naughty Santa" and "Nasty, Naughty Boy" (two of the saucier numbers), though. Veronica DeWitt does a breathtaking, svelte aerial of "My Favorite Things" on silks. Anjali sings a beautiful "River" alone on a stool and the cast sings a sweet and sincere "This Christmas" as the evening's coda.

And the atmosphere, good cheer and good food are, as they have been for 25 years, a great place to escape the stress of the holidays.

"Naughty or Nice" continues at 11 p.m. Dec. 15, 22 and 23 and 9:30 p.m. Dec. 19.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.