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'Holiday Inn' Cast Really Making Hay!

In the opening moments of the Marriott Theatre’s glorious new production of “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” that opened Wednesday night, Michael Mahler, one of Chicago’s most gifted actors, a top-tier vocalist, musician and composer, stepped up to the lone stage piece – a ‘40s era console piano – and proceeded to perform selections from the overture live. Mahler played flawlessly, as he does throughout his superb performance as the famous ‘hit man’/crooner turned gentleman farmer Jim Hardy, right in step with the conductor Patti Garwood’s orchestra to ring in the rich tones of the Berlin songbook that follows. Under the “Blue Skies” of this Connecticut farm setting, the “Holiday Inn” cast is really making hay!

“Holiday Inn” — book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge — is directed by Denis Jones, who also choreographs, as he did in the 2016 Greenberg-directed Broadway production which received a Tony nomination for Jones. That inspired production, which had the benefit of a proscenium stage and wing space, fits very nicely in Marriott’s round configuration. There are a lot of moving parts and the set, lighting and projections/media team — Scott Davis, Jesse Klug and Anthony Churchill — make it all come together seamlessly.

Front and center — a perfect match for Mahler — is the captivating, triple-threat talent, Johanna McKenzie Miller as Linda Mason who just about everyone falls for, right down to the precocious Charlie Winslow played by 9 year-old Patrick Scott McDermott. The drama in this familiar hometown-to-Hollywood love story – based on the 1942 film starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale that featured ‘White Christmas’ – revolves around the schmoozing hoofer Ted Hanover (Will Burton) who crashes the New Year’s Eve party after being ditched by his partner, and Hardy’s fiancé, Lila Dixon (Kimberly Immanuel). Despite the push and pull of efforts back on the farm and on the phone by the handy-dandy Louise (Marya Grandy), the impassioned agent Danny Reed (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.), and, an unsuspecting farm animal, things have a way of sorting themselves out.

Jones’ electrifying ensemble is the finest dancing that you will see on a stage anywhere in Chicago right now. There are no less than a half-dozen, lavish, upbeat company numbers, with everyone decked out in Sally Dolembo’s exquisite, holiday-inspired costumes, ripping through the iconic Berlin score under the musical direction of Ryan T. Nelson.

The singing, dancing, heart-tugging joy ride is full-throttle with ‘Shaking the Blues Away,” a scene played out this|close with a stage full of dancers, milk buckets and jump ropes of holiday lights. Burton is terrific as the debonair Hanover who dances up a storm with the ravishing Immanuel, when he is not with Miller, or on his own in the Fourth of July ode “Let’s Say It with Firecrackers.” In the featured dance number “You’re Easy to Dance With,” Burton and ‘the Girls’ delight right down to the perfectly executed backward tap-dancing line!

From the hotter-than-hot “Heat Wave,” the elegance of “Easter Parade” and “White Christmas” and all the holidays in between, when you step out with your baby for this one, you will definitely “Have Plenty to be Thankful For!” Don’t miss it!