COLUMBIA — Christmas songs are so familiar that it's probably easy for performers to be lulled into thinking that they don't need to practice them much.
That appears to be what happened on opening night Friday of Sierra Repertory Theatre's "Christmas My Way: A Frank Sinatra Holiday Bash" at Columbia State Historic Park's Fallon House.
The four-member cast botched the harmonies of many of the songs and frequently sang the music in a wooden way with no feeling or connection to the lyrics. Only Michael Vodde was able to consistently relax into his songs and add some nuance.
Perhaps with time, the company will iron out the problems. The three other performers — Leigh Cara Hussman, Katherine McLaughlin and Eric Weaver — are all experienced artists who have sung in big cities.
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The idea for the show is a good one. As conceived by David Grapes and Todd Olson, the production offers the feel of a 1950s holiday TV special with lots of singing, a little dancing and some light comic banter.
Among the 30 songs are such holiday favorites as "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "The Christmas Waltz" and "Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!" and Sinatra standards including "Come Fly With Me," "Witchcraft" and "Fly Me to the Moon."
No one plays the Sinatra role or even attempts to sing like Old Blue Eyes. Instead, all the actors give nuggets about Sinatra, from his favorite drinks to his numerous holiday albums and his heartbreak over actress Ava Gardner.
Noble Dinse's set conveys Rat Pack style with a big Christmas tree and flickering fireplace backed by multicolored panels. Costume designer Victoria Depew finds the performers fun holiday wear, including sparkly gowns, reindeer sweaters and fur coats. For some odd reason though, three of the cast members changed frequently on Friday and one didn't.
Musical director and keyboardist John C. Brownleads a competent three-piece combo on stage and jokes with the cast. Director-choreographer Troy Magino has the cast constantly move during their songs in glee club-like routines and provides some elegant tap dancing numbers.
What's missing is Sinatra's sense of cool and devil-may-care confidence. Maybe the show will inspire some people to dig out his old recordings again and gain a new appreciation for his immense talent.
For more on the Modesto area arts scene, visit www.twitter.com/lisamillegan.