Guest Blog: HOLIDAY INN Brings the Joy of the Season to Sandy Springs
Story by Jennifer Skura
Atlanta's newest professional theatre company continues to capture Atlanta's great appreciation of its cultural arts.
At 9:23 pm on a rainy winter night, I stand up in front of my Row G, Orchestra seat to stretch my legs. Above my head, the red and gold acoustically molded architecture cups the balconies like chilly fingers round a steaming cup. I notice how well the golden tones match the warmth of the show-Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn, presented by City Springs Theatre Company, running at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center's Byers Theatre. It's the perfect place for a cozy holiday play.
Alongside Atlanta's mostly local talent (C.J. Babb, Fenner Eaddy, Avery Gillham, D.J. Grooms, Brian Jordan, Imani Joseph, Paige McCormick, Jenna Jackson Morris, Brooke Morrison, Tyler Sarkis, Lauren Tatum, and Kiley Washington), Broadway performers Samantha Sturm, Tyler Hanes, Haley Podschun, Nicholas Rodriguez, and Jan Neuberger star in this regional premiere.
As I sip my $10 "Hot Toddy," cleverly sold to be paired with the show, a line from the first act hits me: "What could be better than Broadway?" With this venue, this show, and this cast, City Springs is doing a great job trying.
Based on the classic 1942 film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, Holiday Inn tells the story of Jim Hardy (Nicholas Rodriguez) who leaves show business to settle down on a farmhouse in Connecticut with his mismatched fiancé Lila Dixon (Samantha Sturm.) Within hours, Lila misses the old days and heads back to the stage. However, Jim's luck takes a spectacular turn when he meets Linda Mason (Haley Podschun), a spirited schoolteacher who left her acting studies in New York to take care of her widowed father. Everyone's leaving the business of show, but the show still follows them wherever they go.
With talented friends on a break from Broadway, and Louise (Jan Neuberger), the property's former "fix it" person, Jim and Linda manage to turn the farmhouse into an inn that hosts seasonal performances celebrating every Hallmark holiday. The only obstacle? Ted Hanover (Tyler Hanes), Jim's best friend who's never without his trusty agent Danny (Tony Hayes.) Together they plan to lure Linda away to Hollywood, leaving Jim without a companion once again. Will Jim get the girl? It's Irving Berlin, there's little suffering in the end, but Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge have reshaped parts of the script enough to keep us entertained with current themes that illuminate acceptance and new beginnings.
Samantha Sturm plays a finely nuanced and layered Lila. She also manages to embody her own spotlight--you can't look away. Haley Podschun hones the fine art of discovery to perfection. Every song she sings feels shiny and new, even a "White Christmas" duet with the velvety Nicholas Rodriguez. Jan Neuberger's commitment to using her full instrument (down to her fingernails) has the potential to become a new category of performance all together. She seems to love the audience as much as we love her.
In two acts, there's a total of 22 scenes and 27 songs. It's a massive production highlighting the play's best device-contrast. Small Town vs. Big City. Normal People vs. the ones who "always wanted to be normal after I'm famous!" The costumes (Amanda Edgerton West) eloquently and expertly guide us through each moment with Zeigfeld panache.
The second act is a bit repetitive, with Jim experiencing the same-problem-different-girl, but the choreography (Cindy Mora Reiser) is exciting, and with every partnering there seems to be a death-defying lift and spin. The tap numbers are exceptionally entertaining, showcasing each performer clearly chosen for unique and, again, contrasting qualities. The ensemble is a joy, and a jump-rope routine is particularly impressive. Just when you think Hanes couldn't possibly lift another dancer or land another triple pirouette, his tap solo seems to push him through to some kind of super-human threshold, and even on a shaky opening night, his special blend of precision and raw sex appeal reminds us why Elvis was king.
The sculpted proscenium arch and subsequent scenery (Kyle Dixon) is impressive in equal parts for its mass, style, and ability to flip from showy to cozy. A scrim reflects opening credits as well as a closing scene that's fun to watch, albeit a bit confusing in placement of the show.
With the show behind me, I leave the warmth of City Spring's Inn and open my umbrella to the crisp, wet Sandy Springs night. Lizzo blares on the radio when I turn on my car and the contrast makes me laugh, wondering what she'd do if she were to play the fictional Holiday Inn. Does Lizzo ever worry about a measly reviewer out in the audience on opening night? Surely, Ted Hanover would be the first to remind her, "Don't worry 'bout the small things, I know I can do all things/Mama always told me it would be alright..."
City Springs Theatre Company was formed in 2017 by Sandy Springs residents Jan Collins, Steven Hauser, and Peggy and Jerry Stapleton in response to the needs and desires for high quality musical theatre produced locally and highlighting regional talent. Through their affiliation with the brand-new Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, City Springs Theatre is committed to artistic excellence, community engagement, and educational initiatives for all ages. Visit CitySpringsTheatre.com for more information on the venue and to purchase tickets to the theatre company's next show!