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For a four-seasons treat, check in to Marriott Theatre's 'Holiday Inn'


Marriott Theatre's regional premiere of "Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn" delivers exactly what audiences expect holiday shows to deliver. It puts smiles on their faces and a spring in their steps.

Adapted from the 1942 movie starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, the frothy jukebox tuner expands the film score to include such Berlin gems as "Steppin' Out With My Baby," "Blue Skies" and the showstopping "Shaking the Blues Away," a taptastic jump-rope number from director/choreographer Denis Jones, who re-creates his galvanizing choreography from the 2016 Broadway premiere.

That number, along with the snappy "Song of Freedom," elicited a sustained, ecstatic response during Wednesday's opening of the show, which benefits from some tweaking by book writers Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, who excised an offensive blackface number and added a wisecracking handywoman.

"Holiday Inn" remains a formulaic tale about show biz and friendship, ambition and romance. But Jones' direction suggests a cheeky self-awareness. The cast -- led by ever-likable leads Michael Mahler and Johanna McKenzie Miller -- embrace those corny contrivances common in many classic musicals, and so do we. We're in on the joke and along for the thoroughly entertaining ride.

Mahler, an ideal everyman, plays Jim Hardy, one-third of a song-and-dance trio that includes his best friend Ted Hanover (Will Burton, an especially adroit dancer) and his best girl Lila Dixon (Kimberly Immanuel). Jim, having decided to retire from show business to run a farm he's purchased in Connecticut, proposes to Lila, who's less enthusiastic about giving up her career to milk cows and harvest crops.

When agent Danny Reed (Lorenzo Rush Jr.) offers the trio a headlining tour, Lila and Ted accept, leaving Jim to tend to his increasingly insolvent homestead with help from Louise (a droll, engaging Marya Grandy), a self-described "fix-it man" and first-class quipster.

In an effort to save the farm, Jim and Louise decide to turn it into an inn and nightclub open only on holidays. As headliner, they enlist onetime aspiring performer turned schoolteacher Linda Mason (a sweet, gracious Miller), whose family owned the farm before Jim. The two embark on a romance that's threatened by Ted. After Lila jilts him for a Texas millionaire, Ted arrives at the inn seeking a new partner and sets his sights on Linda.

The characters are thinly drawn and the intersecting romantic plots overly complicated. Male characters' penchant for making unilateral decisions for female characters is troubling and can't be absolved by attributing the behavior to a bygone era. But the score overall is a delight, especially the signature "White Christmas," which is simply and affectionately sung by Mahler and Miller.

Christmas isn't the only holiday they celebrate at "Holiday Inn," running through Jan. 6 at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

The acting and singing is solid, as is conductor Patti Garwood's always reliable orchestra. The costumes are lovely, and the "Easter Parade" hats made from baskets, watering cans and an umbrella are amusing.

But it's the dancing that dazzles. Jones' classic choreography pays homage to the 1940s. But its wit and vigor reflects a modern sensibility that's evident in the rousing "Shaking the Blues Away," the sly "Steppin' Out With My Baby" (with its fleeting Beyoncé reference) and "Heat Wave," in which Ted mimes playing bongos on Lila's behind.

I promise it'll put a smile on your face. And really, what more could you want?