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There's probably no gentle way to say that Aurora Theatre's Christmas Canteen would make great cruise ship entertainment, but there it is. The seventh annual production of the holiday revue efficiently delivers more than 40 songs in whole or part, while keeping everything too mild and wholesome to offend -- or even surprise -- any part of its audience.

Canteen takes place at a USO show in Paris, approximately during World War II, although the program refers to the conflicts in Korea and the Persian Gulf. The song selection predictably evokes the era of Big Bands and Hollywood's war effort, like when Natalie Gray, Kristie Krabe and Stacey Elizabeth Stone run through the Andrews Sisters' hits. Credit the creators for having long musical memories, with a single medley touching on nine French-themed tunes, including a cute, campy treatment of "La Vie En Rose."

The play often feels like an old-fashioned, by-the-numbers TV variety show -- you could call it "The Tom Brokaw Greatest Generation Holiday Special" -- and true to form it makes sharp turns from heavy-handed sentiment to forced comic relief. Canteen attempts to jerk tears when the cast reads letters to and from military personnel overseas, then goes for the funnybone when Lesley Terrell Donald and Andy Meeks don grass skirts and coconut bikinis for "Christmas Island." Of the six actors, Robert Egizio provides the saving grace, carrying himself with such panache and ease that he gets away with singing signature songs by Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Maurice Chevalier.

Christmas Canteen's corniest number has the men singing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" while telling stories about "true American heroes" like the Tuskegee Airmen. Yet it's also the show's most effective moment, inspiring genuine, spontaneous audience applause. Here Christmas Canteen doesn't so much transcend its cliches as embrace them tightly enough to find the truth they contain.

Christmas Canteen: A Musical Remembrance plays through Dec. 22 at Aurora Theatre, 3087-B Main St., Duluth. Tues.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m. $16-$20. 770-476-7926.


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