Fun for All Seasons
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Imagine a musical with the warmth of Christmas, the spring colours of Easter, and the fun of dancing turkeys at Thanksgiving! The Shaw Festival’s Holiday Inn is an enchanting romp through the calendar with stops at all the major holidays for singing and dancing. What’s not to like?
The plot is charming but fairly predictable – so I don’t think I’ll be spoiling the story with my description. But if you fear a spoiler, just jump down a couple of paragraphs.
Jim, Ted and Lila have a trio song and dance act. Jim is tired of performing and proposes to Lila, telling her he has bought a farm in Connecticut where they can settle down. But Lila prefers to keep chasing stardom, and stays on entertaining, as Ted’s partner. Jim meets Linda whose family used to own the big farmhouse. When Jim has difficulties paying the bills on the farm, and he learns Linda was once a performer, he suggests they open an inn with live shows on all holidays. Thus Holiday Inn is created out of the farm. Jim and Linda’s budding romance is nudged along by Louise, the farm hand and handy-person.
All goes well, until Ted returns, having had a little too much to drink. Lila has left him to marry a rich Texan, and he’s looking for a new dance partner to go to Hollywood with him to make a movie. His agent comes to the farm to see Ted dance with Linda. Of course, Jim is jealous of Ted stealing another of his dates. He and Linda argue, and she goes to Hollywood with Ted to make a movie about how the farm becomes Holiday Inn. She’s homesick, so when Jim goes after her, she happily returns to the farm with him. Lila finds out that her husband “owed more than he owned” and comes back to make the movie with Ted. The show closes with Jim and Linda’s wedding at Holiday Inn.
This is the show that introduced the song “White Christmas” which later spawned the movie of the same name. The similarities between the two musicals are obvious: couples finally finding the right partner, and a meddling busybody almost getting in the way, but providing laughs.
The production stars a very talented duo: Kyle Blair as Jim and Kyle Golemba as Ted. Blair’s singing is perfection as usual: He handles the Bing Crosby role, crooning White Christmas and other songs with such warmth. Golemba impresses with the dance numbers: He literally has fireworks around his feet in the Fourth of July celebration. Vanessa Sears is the gorgeous Lila who wants to further her career in Hollywood, and Kristi Frank is delightful as Linda who makes the shift from school teacher back to entertainer.
Gabrielle Jones provides much of the humour as the farm’s Jill-of-all-trades and wannabe matchmaker. Young Julia Thompson gets laughs with her attitude as she delivers bad news. (This role alternates between Thompson and Wren Evans at different performances.)
The rest of the cast are amazing dancers and tap experts. On opening night, they received spontaneous applause for the perfectly synchronized big tap number.
In some instances, it seemed like the characters were trying to talk like actors in the 1942 movie. While that old-timey sound was interesting, it wasn’t sustained long enough to have an impact. Perhaps that’s for the best; the audience would have tired of it. It’s also worth noting that the black-face scenes in the old movie were dropped for the stage show, and for that we are grateful. Another interesting feature of the old movie – it gave its name to the hotel chain.
It may be a cliché to say that this show has something for everyone – but this time it’s true! White Christmas, spring fashions, farm wheelbarrows, and show girls. With powerful singing and lively dancing, you can celebrate your favourite holiday!
Holiday Inn continues at The Shaw Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake until December 23. For tickets, visit www.shawfest.com or call 1-800-511-SHAW (7429).
Photo: Gabrielle Jones as Louise and Kyle Blair as Jim Hardy in Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn. Photo by David Cooper.
Based on the film from Universal Pictures
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge
Directed by Kate Hennig
Musical Direction by Paul Sportelli
Performed Kyle Blair, Kyle Golemba, Kristi Frank, Vanessa Sears, Gabrielle Jones, Carla Bennett, Wren Evans, Elodie Gillett, Joshua Graetz, Amanda Lundgren, Jordan Mah, Allison McCaughey, Melanie McInenly, Kevin McLachlan, Drew Plummer, David Andrew Reid, Jennifer Rider-Shaw, Kiera Sangster, Adam Sergison, Jason Sermonia, Julius Sermonia, Jacqueline Thair, Julia Thompson, Jay Turvey.
Shaw Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake,
November 14 to December 23, 2021
Reviewed by Mary Alderson