Christmas connoisseurs know that “White Christmas”, the best-selling single of all time, did not originate from the film of the same name. Rather, 1954’s “White Christmas” is, as Bing Crosby who played in both films described it, “an inferior remake” of 1942’s “Holiday Inn”, which introduced the song.
It was the songwriter Irving Berlin who came up with the idea for a film where each party would have its own song. As such, “Holiday Inn” follows year round and unlike the movie “White Christmas”, is not just a Christmas thread.
Berlin expected “Pay attention, it’s my heart”, the Valentine’s Day issue, to be the big hit. Crosby never saw the popularity of the song “White Christmas” coming: he would have composed the track in eighteen minutes. Unexpectedly, it was Crosby humming softly to a country sailing through the horrors and sacrifices of WWII that ended up nostalgically reminding everyone of exactly what we were fighting for in the first place.
The 2014 musical “Holiday Inn” offers a stage version of the 1942 film, removing some numbers and adding other more well-known Irving Berlin songs. It was a phrase that had been lavished on the 2000 musical “White Christmas”, but with one crucial difference: “White Christmas” treated its source material with irony, almost a sendoff to “The Brady Bunch Movie.” But the comedy in the musical “Holiday Inn” preserves the ironic air and the spectacle middle of the original and takes its best aspects and makes them contemporary.
Add to that the drive and energy of director and choreographer Matt Crowle, the end result is spectacular entertainment. Crowle is a song and dance veteran who has put together an ideal cast, who can all sing and dance till the storm. Yet at the same time, we get to know and care about these characters.
It goes without saying that a show like this has to offer shows that take off, and this “Holiday Inn” does it with aplomb. But no less important is that these numbers are given deeper context and meaning through our investment in the travel of its people. For performers, effectively performing performers on stage is no easy task, it often looks like performing in italics. But here, we feel organic and natural.
Adrian Aguilar plays Jim Hardy, making his distaste for the hustle and bustle of nomadic spectacle life palpable. He and his co-partner Lila Dixon (Darilyn Burtley) plan to tie the knot and move to a farm Jim bought in Connecticut, but he is surrounded by his friend and partner Ted Hanover (Drew Humphrey) who has signed. contracts for himself and Lila. A dejected Jim goes to the farm alone but meets Linda Mason (Erica Stephan), who, in this version, is a schoolteacher who lived there but comes to visit him. Sparks fly, all carefully set in motion by the comical but poignant housekeeper Louise (Danielle Davis), the moral compass and conscience of the series that delightfully steals every scene she finds herself in.
Linda is a song and dance aspirant and it doesn’t take long before they open the big house as an inn open only on holidays with numbers written by Jim. Ted arrives at the inn after being dumped by Lila and, of course, another triangle begins.
The inn itself is a character in the show, with gorgeous set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec, complemented by a realistic panoramic window of each dramatic season change as a colorful backdrop for the holiday numbers.
Music is also well served by Music Director Linda Madonia with Christopher Sargent leading an energetic ensemble that conveys the performance practices and necessary nuances of Irving Berlin’s vintage numbers.
Until January 9, Drury Lane Theater, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111.