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'White Christmas' funny, heartwarming fare

’Tis the season to be inundated with reliable old chestnuts, so off I went to Randall Theatre Company Saturday to see its version of “White Christmas,” that solid classic with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and book by David Ives and Paul Blake.

The ensemble cast at the Randall has pulled off a fun, fanciful and altogether raucously enjoyable version of this seasonal classic that somehow manages to be funny and heartwarming without traipsing into the usual saccharine sand-trap that is often the hallmark of holiday fare.

Jon Oles and Payne Smith play Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, respectively. Two former military men turned successful Broadway actors, Bob and Phil are in great demand as a double act who bounce from club to club under a cloud of showgirls, thanks mostly to the rakish charms of the latter.

Oles and Smith, both well established Randall performers, are as good as they’ve been in any other show I’ve watched at this theater. Oles, in particular, is a strong stage presence, who comes off as a convincing underdog to his mawkish, womanizing friend. He is the warm center of the show.

As the love interests of the leading men, Susie Gabumpa and Brianna Gowland play the Haynes sisters, two aspiring thespians who have not seen the sort of success that has been bestowed upon their male colleagues. Gabumpa turns in a strong, steady performance as the more world-weary of the two; a woman with a good heart who watches from the sidelines while her more comely sister sucks up all the oxygen. As Judy, Gowland is the full-bosomed, doe-eyed strumpet of the piece, easily seduced by the wolfish Phil. Gowland is an actor who likes to fill the stage with a campy comedic style reminiscent of Vivian Vance. I’m not sure how well that delivery has worked in other productions, but for this particular piece it’s a clever choice.

There are clever choices aplenty from the actors in this production. The ensemble did well as a whole, but there were some clear stand-out performances.

Becky Durango as the put-upon innkeeper, Martha Watson, was wonderful. A woman in her prime, she held up against performers more than half her age — and showed them a thing or two, belting out her numbers with infectious enthusiasm and dancing up a storm.

As retired General Henry Waverly, David Hagemaier is terrific as the archetypal grizzled old boy with a heart of gold.

Sophia Berryessa does well as an aspiring starlet who’s having trouble staying down on the Vermont farm.

It’s unusual for members of the audience to see someone in the chorus line show up as much more than "stage parsley." On this particular evening, my date and I found the earnest antics of newcomer Annalise Rose Williams to be utterly, perhaps inadvertently, hilarious. Was this a happy accident, or a sign of things to come? Let's see how Williams answers that question.

I’ve yet to see anyone in the Rogue Valley wring quite so much comedic gold out of three minutes of onstage snoring as Tim Kelly did in this show. Similarly, Mariah Wise makes the most of her brief appearance as Kelly’s bourgeois wife.

Overall, Randall Theatre’s “White Christmas” is a production worth seeing — even your Grinch of a critic found himself singing along to “White Christmas” by the end of the show. If you’re on the hunt for a little good, old-fashioned holiday cheer over this, the chilliest of seasons, you could do worse than to take your visiting in-laws to a performance of “White Christmas.”

— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.

Jon Oles, left, plays Bob Wallace, and Payne Smith is Phil Davis in Randall Theatre's production of 'White Christmas.' Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta