‘Holiday Inn’ dances joyous path through the holidays
Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” now playing at Marriott Theatre, is among the composer’s delightful story-telling songs in “Holiday Inn.” But don’t confuse Berlin’s “Holiday Inn,” a musical that has a book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, with the show, “White Christmas.”
Based on the 1942 Universal film with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, “Holiday Inn” packs “Blue Skies,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Heat Wave,” “Shaking the Blues Away,” “It’s a Lovely Day Today”, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” and “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk” into a delightful, old-fashioned-style hokey, song and dance musical that ends with happily ever after.
Basically, boy (singer Michael Mahler as Jim Hardy), loses girl, (dancer Kimberly Immanuel as Lila Dixon), to second boy, (dancer Will Burton as Ted Hanover) but then boy number one meets girl number two, (singer and dancer Johanna McKenzie Miller as Linda Mason) whom he may also lose to boy number two.
The draw for Hanover, Dixon and possibly Mason is fame. Hardy already has left the bright lights in favor of a Connecticut farm house way of life. The ending revolves around lover versus career even though a repeated line reminds people to just “be happy” instead of looking for happiness.
The why of “Holiday Inn” is that Hardy is not much of a farmer. To pay off the farm house’s mortgage, Hardy and his friends, the troop he worked with when entertaining in New York, said they could only come up to entertain his guests on the holidays when they are not working.
The troop is a terrific ensemble of dancers and singers who tap away New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Easter and the Fourth of July, while singer Hardy (think Bing Crosby gestures) mixes it up with dancer Hanover (who has great tap-dancing moves) while the woman in their life try to figure out what they want.
Aside from Berlin’s lyrics and music, what saves this show from being too sappy is Denis Jones’ fabulous choreography. The dancing, alone, is a reason to see the show. The Sally Dolembo’s costumes topped with extraordinary hats add to the show’s fun.
Chicago veteran actress Marya Grandy plays Louise, a Rosie the Riveter type character ready to fix anything she deems needs help from relationships to farmhouse repairs and decorating.
And there is scene stealer Patrick Scott McDermott as Charlie Winslow, a very young bank messenger who tells it as he sees it, McDermott who has appeared at Drury Lane Theatre and Music theater works, proves the old adage that if you don’t want to be upstaged, don’t play alongside a talented child actor.
Casting is excellent. Mahler is perfect for the Hardy role because he not only sings, but plays the piano so well he is convincing as the composer of the songs in the show.
Audiences who have seen Marriott’s “October Sky” and “Hero” may remember that Mahler was the composer/lyricist of those shows.
Miller’s strong vocal performance as Mason, Hardy’s love interest, is also no stranger to Marriott audiences having appeared in more than 16 of the production company’s shows and at several other Chicago area theaters.
Hanover, who has appeared on Broadway in “Hello, Dolly!, “Holiday Inn” and “An American in Paris” is an outstanding tap dancer though his acting style is more Gene Kelly than Fred Astaire.
Immanuel who has acted in theaters across the US has the body and spirit to be Hanover’s dance and song partner.
Lorenzo rush Jr., recently seen at Court Theatre and at Drury Lane and Paramount Theatres, is believable as their agent, Danny Reed.
As an interesting side note if wondering about the hotel chain name, the answer is yes.
The “Holiday Inn name came from architect Eddie Bluestein during construction of the first motel buildt by Memphis, Tenn. Resident Kemmons Wilson. It opened 10 years after the musical in 1952 in Memphis as “Holiday Inn Hotel Courts.
Wilson’s inn concept grew quickly ao that by 1956 there were 23 Holiday Inns and today, the Holiday Inn Corporation is among the largest hotel chains. All that is left of it now is a plaque commemorating the original site.