Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley
Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn
While cleverly adapted to best fit the stage, make it more palatable for today's sensibilities, and provide a plethora of song and dance numbers, the book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge essentially leaves intact the movie's charming premise, characters and story.
As the curtain rises, song and dance trio Jim Hardy (Nicholas Rodriguez), Ted Hanover (Jeff Kready), and Lila Dixon (Paige Faure) (Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds, respectively, in the movie) are performing their last show in a shabby Hoboken nightclub. Jim, who is tired of the pressures of his hardscrabble career, has bought a farm in Connecticut, where he intends to settle down with Lila. After Lila accepts his marriage proposal, they learn that their agent has booked them a six-week tour culminating with an engagement at a premiere Chicago nightclub. Jim remains committed to his farm, but Lila backs out on him to take on the tour with Ted.
In Connecticut, Jim finds a new romantic interest in Linda Mason (Hayley Podschun), a schoolteacher who lost the (family) farm when she couldn't make a go of it after her father passed on. In short order, Jim finds that he cannot make a go of the farm, either. However, while being visited by New York performer friends, Jim hits on the idea of saving the farm by putting on celebratory shows for all of the major holidays, and renting the house's many rooms to holiday guests. Linda, who was briefly a singer before returning home to care for her father, performs in the shows. Ted visits the farm after Lila has abandoned him and their act, and when he shows an interest in Linda as a dance partner, Jim fears a repeat of what happened with him and Lila.
Along with a fresh cast, the original creative team has come to New Jersey to recreate in full, the festive Broadway production that played at Roundabout's Studio 54 October 6, 2016 through January 15, 2017.
Director Gordon Greenberg, who originally developed Holiday Inn at Connecticut's Goodspeed Opera House, deftly manages the task of recreating all of the details that enriched his Broadway production while bringing to the Paper Mill stage the freshness and enthusiasm of a newly minted production. A part of his success is likely attributable to his casting of several performers who bring their own style and personality to their roles. The set has been altered to add a performance apron in front of the orchestra pit, and Greenberg employs it (along with the auditorium floor and aisles) most effectively.
Paper Mill veteran Denis Jones provides top of the line choreography for this happily old-fashioned, dance-filled show. And it is a great pleasure to watch this proficient and energetic cast perform numerous dance numbers featuring which I would describe as tap, jazz, and musical theater choreography. "Shaking the Blues Away" is an exhilarating showstopper which stylistically brings to mind Susan Stroman's signature use of props.
The extremely clever set design by the reliable Anna Louizos provides myriad festive and eye-filling decorations which please, while providing space for Jones' expansive choreography. Alejo Vietti provides delightfully showy, colorful costumes to complement Louizos' stage pictures. They appear to be informed by the costumes from the 1942 Paramount film.
Nicholas Rodriguez displays a strong, more Sinatra than Crosby-like voice and brings a bit of a ladies' man swagger to the role of Jim Hardy. Jeff Kready as Ted Hanover dances up quite a storm. His exciting "Let's Say It with Firecrackers" is up to Astaire's standard. And Fred Astaire reportedly took 37 takes to film this number, which is about the number of times that Kready will be performing it on the Paper Mill stage.
Hayley Podschun is an appealing Linda Mason, and Paige Faure brings a humorous edge to Lila Dixon. Both handle their song and dance chores in exemplary fashion. Ann Harada brings spunk and warm good humor to the role of Jim's caring and meddlesome housekeeper Louise.
At the end of the day, the raison d'etre for Holiday Inn is the product of the man considered by many to be the greatest of all American songwriters, Irving Berlin. As closely as I can ascertain, this stage adaptation has added ten Berlin classics to the film score. Essentially well integrated, they include such wonderful classics as "Cheek to Cheek," "Blue Skies," "Heat Wave," and "Shaking the Blues Away." The quality of the songs carried over from the motion picture are truly extraordinary. I think all but one were written for the movie. And that one is "Easter Parade," which first appeared in the Broadway revue As Thousands Cheer. Other hit songs from the movie include "Be Careful, It's My Heart," "You're Easy to Dance With," "Happy Holidays," and "I've Got Plenty to Be Thankful For." And, as if you didn't know, there was another little song that was written for Holiday Inn and became the best-selling single of all time, "White Christmas," sung by Bing Crosby. Need anyone say more?
Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn, through December 30, 2018, at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn NJ. Evenings: Wednesday - Sunday 7 pm/ Matinees: Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 1:30 pm. Box Office: 973-376-4343; online: www.papermill.org.
Jim Hardy: Nicholas Rodriguez