HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Celebrating the Holidays with Irving Berlin
It’s Thanksgiving of 1946, and Jim Hardy reminisces about the first time he met his best friend, Ted Hanover. They were at a casting call in New York City, and neither man got the role; however, Jim still found Ted enjoying his time at a bar amongst a group of women. When Jim asks Ted how he could be enjoying himself so much despite this failure to land the gig, he responded with the above line: “Every now and then, it’s a good idea to pause in our pursuit for happiness to just be happy.”
The moment is amusing, and the Opening Night audience certainly laughed along with Jim as he retold this tale. However, the line itself, which is repeated throughout the musical, acts as the perfect moral for the piece. Especially as we take time to reflect this holiday season, sometimes it is helpful to just pause and enjoy the moment.
Marriott Theatre presents Holiday Inn
With book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, Holiday Inn follows Jim Hardy (Michael Mahler) as he leaves showbusiness to pursue a life on a farm. When his fiancé, Lila Dixon (Kimberly Immanuel) leaves him to become a star in the midst of his realization that farming is not as easy as he thought it might be, he feels all hope is lost. However, with the help of the farm’s fix-it man Louise (Marya Grandy, with an all-around stellar performance) and the farm’s previous owner Linda Mason (Johanna Mckenzie Miler), he sets out on a quest to save the farm through transforming it into a performance venue that pops up for each holiday from Thanksgiving to Christmas and Fourth of July. Taking the audience through a calendar year, Holiday Inn asks us to consider what makes us happy, and what we are willing to do to achieve that goal.
Sensational Choreography and Aesthetically Striking Stage
The score, featuring music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, is full of classic favorites that many audience members are sure to recognize, such as Blue Skies and White Christmas. Director and Choreographer Denis Jones fills these pieces with top-notch choreography that is perfectly in sync – which, in collaboration with the artistic team’s work, create striking images to take the stage throughout, at least in this writer’s opinion.
Heat Wave takes place early in the musical, and is meant to showcase two series of events happening simultaneously. On one side of the storytelling we have Lila Dixon and Ted Hanover (Will Burton) touring the country’s night clubs with their popular dancing act. Jones’ stunning partners choreography is full of moments in which Burton lifts Immanuel into the air. As the duo dances about the stage, the rest of the ensemble fills in with their own couples’ choreography, and as the number carries on, Lila exits and re-enters, sporting dresses that grow in extravagance, which is just one example of many of Costume Designer Sally Dolembo’s gorgeous creations. Especially when Lighting Designer Jesse Klug completes the image with warm lighting full of reds and yellows, the event that takes the stage, in this writer’s opinion, is dazzling.
In the midst of the number, Jim and Louise walk through, jolting the audience back to the farm as they discuss the troubles of growing crops in the cold weather. As the number becomes increasingly extravagant for Lila and Tom, the challenges only increase for the farm, which only emphasizes the distance between the Jim and Lila who are still engaged at this point. Jones’ choice to combine the farm and dance club scenes in such a way is creative in this writer’s view, and helps convey the storytelling of time passing.
Stellar Vocals and Jaw-Dropping Numbers
Irving Berlin’s music provides a catchy score that for this writer is only heightened by the top-notch vocal talents of the ensemble.
Shaking the Blues Away takes place when Jim is feeling particularly low as he approaches Christmas, and Louise surprises him by inviting all of his showbusiness friends to stay with him for the holidays. Grandy wows the audience with a powerhouse belt, and the ensemble breaks into another round of Jones’ impressive and fun-filled choreography – down to a tap number that involves the dancers dancing around Grandy (in perfect-sync) as she “tap dances” center stage with buckets on her feet instead of shoes. The number aims to put a smile on Jim’s face, and as this writer looked around at the Opening Night audience that was clapping and tapping their feet along with the music, it is easy to see that Grandy succeeded in spreading that joy around the room.
The upbeat numbers are fun, but the musical also explores a range of emotions, and the darker, more somber moments are just as lovely. At a key moment when Linda Mason finds herself feeling conflicted over feelings of loneliness and love, she sings Nothing More to Say. This writer felt for Linda as Miller filled the piece with a beautiful vibrato, and as she walks the stage, Projections and Media Designer Anthony Churchill fills the screens above with a starry night, helping plant the audience in world of the musical.
Stellar vocals and a catchy score make Holiday Inn the perfect way to celebrate this time of year.