Fans of Theatre Horizon's 2007 Holiday Show at the Swing Club no doubt felt the season warm up several degrees on the return of this year's Holiday Show With the Swing Club Band. Reprising their original concept, Theatre Horizon brings back bandleader Jimmy Goodshaw (Ted Powell), unhappily married drummer/comic foil Mikey Sticks (Mike Reilly, also the show's writer), and glamorous Harlem chanteuse Toni Day (Ryane Nicole Studivant), this time to sing and ring in a new year and decade: 1950.
Rounding out the songbird trio are bubbly blonde Dottie DeLancey (Janet Rowley) and Vivian-Leigh-lookalike Lily Van Voorhees (Sarah Glicko). And just as its previous incarnation featured a young striver looking to share Goodshaw's spotlight, so this year's production has Michael Doherty's busboy Alistair V. Hackney. Doherty's Hackney brims with winningly gawky charm and relentless good cheer - despite Goodshaw's equally relentless rejection. The pair play off each other like a nascent Martin and Lewis, Goodshaw's velvet calm fraying incrementally with each Hackney appearance.
This time around, the production sorely needs Doherty's manic energy. Its earlier conceit, Goodshaw's imminent departure for Europe as a G.I. on the eve of 1944, grounded the show with emotional and historical resonance. With a postwar backdrop, Reilly's script and Matthew Decker's direction ought to, well, swing with the unrestrained glee of all that baby booming.
Instead, much of the Mikey Sticks/Goodshaw "take my wife, please" banter falls flat, as do Glicko's frictionless renditions of "Begin the Beguine" and "My Heart Stood Still," torch songs that, in her uneven delivery, garner little smoke, let alone fire, despite the accompaniment of musical director Ryan Touhey and his capable four-piece band.
Dan Soule's set is also far too understated for the celebration at hand, and Katherine Fritz's women's costumes, though shimmery, need more unity of color and suffer from a lack of the structured undergirding characteristic of the period (this was, after all, the era of the bullet bra).
Despite these flaws, there is still plenty of reason to spend a Holiday Show With the Swing Club Band. Rowley's rousing "Lover, Come Back to Me" is a whizbang roof-raiser, and the cast's Christmas medley gets hot enough to melt the hearts of even committed holiday haters.
Although the Centre Theater doesn't serve cocktails, I suspect a dip into some pre-show nog might go a long way toward making the festivities feel more festive. Perhaps next time - and, I hope, there will be a next time, as the Swing Club Band has all the promise of a holiday tradition in the making - Theatre Horizon can extend Jimmy Goodshaw's vintage shtick beyond the stage and into a whole-house experience.
Holiday Show With the Swing Club Band
Playing at: Centre Theatre, 208 DeKalb St., Norristown. Through Sunday, Jan. 3. Tickets: $18 to $25. Information: 610-283-2230 or www.TheatreHorizon.org.