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'Christmas' taken for a spin in OCT show

Christmas shows, occupying as they do the dark time of the year, are traditionally full of good cheer. Oregon Cabaret Theatre's "Cabaret Christmas," an alt-Christmas show that opened Friday night at OCT in Ashland, is no exception. Whether you think this is the most wonderful time of the year or not, it is, in the hands of directors Jim Giancarlo and Kymberli Colbourne and company, a jazzy, satirical, nostalgic, swingin', politically correct (not!), sometimes down-home, occasionally sentimental time of year, and often full of delightful silliness.

"Cabaret Christmas" is a musical revue minus the bawdiness, with many of the numbers taking a slightly skewed or satirical attitude toward their subjects. It is in such numbers that vocalists Kymberli Colbourne, Natasha Harris, Christopher George Patterson and Paul Wrona, all of whom are fine singers, tend to be at their best.

"750 Friends" is Giancarlo's and Eric Nordin's (the same team who wrote last year's "The Wizard of Panto-land") sly look at the world of Facebook, in which Wrona finds he can celebrate the joyous season social networking-style, without ever having to encounter an actual human being.

"Holiday Letter," by Seattle-based composer Richard Gray, takes on those relentlessly cheerful holiday missives people send their friends that highlight little Suzy being named alternate vice-president of the origami club but omit the fact that Mom and Dad got laid off, Junior and his stoner friends got busted, and the house is going into foreclosure.

Nashville-based cabaret singer/actress Lynne Rothrock's "Party Planners" is a tongue-in-cheek recipe for how to have a politically correct holiday season through the eyes Peggy and Patty (Colbourne and Harris), a couple of Minnesota gals who sound like Garrison Keillor talking about Lutherans. It covers a lot of very funny ground in a short time.

The show was weakest in those moments when it played straight, including a mercifully brief sing-along to kick off the second act ("Silver Bells," "Jingle Bells," etc.), a duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and the sentimental "The Littlest Angel." When those numbers are mixed with the likes of "My Simple Christmas Wish" ("to be rich, famous and powerful!") and "Never Do a Tango (With an Eskimo)," the effect is to put the audience off-balance.

Giancarlo and company briefly go all country on us with "The Best Christmas Yet," a song that has pickup trucks, beer and a dad in jail (with banjo, gut bucket, spoons, washboard and jug) and Nashville singer-songwriter Antsy McClain's "Christmas at the Trailer Park," which walks a fine line between laughing at, or with, its subject matter.

At times the show delivers moments that are simply musically satisfying, most of them driven by the consistently strong piano work of Meagan Iverson. There was "Blue Rondo a la Christmas," Kathy Strauss's adaptation of Dave Brubeck's classic "Blue Rondo a la Turk." There was "Swingin' Santa," an ensemble medley of tunes by Harry Connick Jr., Steve Allen and others, complete with dancing elves and a pimped-out Santa. A tap-dance duet with Harris and Patterson was simply inspired.

While there's no narrative thread running through "Cabaret Christmas," there are a couple of light storytelling bits. The best is "X-mas Files," a Lynne Rothrock riff on "The X-Files" TV show involving space aliens and a government cover-up, with agents Mulder (Wrona) and Scully (Harris) skulking around Michael Halderman's Christmasy set with flashlights and discovering stuff like stockings hung by the chimney with care.

"Don't touch it," Mulder, the believer, tells the skeptical Scully. "Those things can be lethal."

So can Christmas shows. Thankfully, this one isn't. It's full of merriment, and it plays through Dec. 31 at OCT in Ashland.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at varble.bill@gmail.com.