Shaw Festival / Holiday Inn, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, musical direction by Paul Sportelli, staging by Kate Hennig, Festival Theater, November 14 to December 23. Tickets available here.
Yes, this stage version of Holiday Inn is based on the 1942 Paramount film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire which introduced the Irving Berlin song White christmas in the world. And is it worth going to Niagara-on-the-Lake? You bet it does. This Shaw Festival production is a class act from start to finish.
The idea of a stage version of Holiday Inn was the brainchild of Chris Herzberger of Live Theatricals at Universal Stage Productions, who felt Irving Berlin’s story and songs would make a good Broadway musical. So, what started in a boardroom made it to Broadway in 2016 in an adaptation by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge. The Shaw Festival presented Holiday Inn for the first time in 2019. Thank goodness for the revivals.
The basic plot remains the same as that of the film. Jim Hardy (Kyle Blair), Ted Hanover (Kyle Golemba) and Lila Dixon (Vanessa Sears) are a popular song and dance trio in New York City. Jim, however, plans to quit the act and retire with Lila to a farm he bought in Connecticut. When their agent Danny (Jay Turvey) tells them about a tour he booked, Lila and Ted form a duo, leaving Jim heartbroken at losing Lila.
Greenberg and Hodge simplified the plot by making Linda Mason (Kristi Frank) a former owner of Jim’s farm. Now a teacher, Linda once wanted to become an interpreter. In the film, Linda is an ambitious Broadway contender. They also created the character of Louise (Gabrielle Jones), a tough farmer who helps Jim. There’s also precocious child Charlie Winslow (I think I saw Julia Thompson – the role is shared by two young girls). Charlie delivers bad news letters from the bank and the tax department.
When Jim turns out to be a desperate farmer, he, Linda, and Louise come up with the idea of opening the farm as Holiday Inn, with shows only on important public holidays. Greenberg and Hodge, however, eliminated Lincoln’s birthday (in the film, a show of black-faced minstrels) and Washington’s birthday (which included the myth of the felling of the cherry tree).
The rest of the plot follows the movie, with Lila leaving Ted to be with a millionaire, and Ted wanting Linda to be his new dance partner, and Jim desperately trying to separate Linda and Ted, and Hollywood making a movie about Holiday Inn, etc. Of course, everything ends well.
Is there something Kate Hennig can’t do? She is an esteemed actress, talented playwright and acclaimed director. As director of Holiday Inn, it brought real emotion. This musical could have been a phone call away, but we really feel Jim’s pain of losing not just one girl, but the possibility of losing two. What a great singer actor Blair is.
Blair’s colleagues are also the best. Golemba can dance till a storm, Sears is a true mermaid, Frank has the required charm as the Girl Next Door, and Turvey is genuinely funny as an arrogant agent, while Jones relishes her stealing stage role. with all the main lines. I thank Hennig for ensuring such strong character representations. And yes, they all know how to sing, and if necessary, dance. In other words, this production of Holiday Inn is more than music. He has heart.
Choreographer Allison Plamondon is from New York, but she’s originally from Edmonton, so she’s, technically, one of us. Her dances are sparkling, inventive and impressive, and there is plenty for the main and energetic ensemble. They all look different, which is a feat in itself, and I’m so glad she did her own version of Fred Astaire’s firecracker dance for the July 4th streak. This show has just come off the stage.
And, oh, the music. Irving Berlin at its best. What would you say Steppin ‘out with my baby, It’s a beautiful day today, Shake off the blues, Happy holidays, Let’s take an old-fashioned walk, and of course White christmas. Adapters have also found places to add other big hits like Blue skies, Cheek to cheek and Heat wave. Congratulations to Paul Sportelli for his lively musical direction.
Judith Bowden’s spectacular sets and costumes help define the production and give it its lightness. By making the farm gate out of white wood, everything that follows has a brilliant tone. It is a spectacle inundated with pastels, which are absolutely magnificent. In fact, the only darker colors are in some of the costumes in the set and in some ruffle sets. It’s a light show and Bowden has adapted perfectly to the ambiance, creating some spellbinding visuals. And the hats she designed for Easter Parade have to be seen to be believed. Kevin Lamotte’s lights happily perpetuate shine and lightness.
For next season, Shaw has announced White Christmas as its holiday show. It’s of course based on the 1954 film, also starring Bing Crosby, who oddly enough used the same sets as Holiday Inn. Will there be a connection to the Holiday Inn musical? There is a similarity in the storyline. We will have to wait and see.
As a final fact, Kemmons Wilson, who founded the Holiday Inn chain of motels in 1952, named his new business after the film.
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