BWW Interview: Brigitte Francis of HOLIDAY INN at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre
It's that time of year when the Christmas decorations start appearing in stores, radio stations begin to play holiday songs non-stop, and the movies that people watch year after year during the holiday season start showing on the television. One of those movies that often comes to mind when we get to this time of year is Holiday Inn. The movie version of Holiday Inn first aired in 1942, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The stage version, with the libretto by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, premiered in 2014 and then opened on Broadway in 2016. Featuring the beloved music and lyrics of Irving Berlin, Holiday Inn continues to delight audiences on the screen and the stage. Holiday Inn explores many themes that resonate with audiences: loneliness, longing, friendship, and love. While these themes follow us through life, they are perhaps most profound during the holiday season. This holiday season, you can catch Holiday Inn at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre November 14-January 4. Brigitte Francis, who takes the stage as Linda in this production of Holiday Inn, took a few moments out of her busy rehearsal schedule to give us some inside information into her character and what audiences can expect from Holiday Inn at Dutch Apple.
BWW: Tell us a little about yourself.
Francis: Everyone who knows me knows that I love three things with my whole heart: Jesus, my family, and Malta (in that order!). I love nights at home spent with family by a fire singing, playing board games, and eating home cooked meals (my mom is an incredible cook!). I was born and raised in rural New Jersey and grew up spending my summers on my Nanna and Nannu's farm on the island of Malta. I have a deep connection to my culture and my family. The unforgettable memories I made there are what I call upon often for inspiration as an actor and have played a huge role in shaping the woman I am today. However, nothing and no one has impacted my life more than Jesus has. I am who I am today because of the grace and mercy Jesus has shown me throughout my life. I am forever grateful!
BWW: What is the first theatre production you were in and what part did you play?
Francis: The first theatre production I was a part of was in fourth grade when I played the title role in a play called Bully Jo. The rest is history!
BWW: What is your favorite theatre experience to date and why was it your favorite?
Francis: I have been blessed with very positive theatre experiences. I think my favorite of all was when I played Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof at Forestburgh Playhouse. The story is so stunning and heart-wrenching. Performing that piece in an intimate theatre with a beautiful but minimal set made it so incredibly raw. I had amazing castmates who I could relate to very well which made it so freeing being up on that stage!
BWW: Before you started rehearsals for the show, what were you most looking forward to about doing Holiday Inn?
Francis: I got offered the role of Linda Mason in Holiday Inn a week before rehearsals began so there wasn't a lot of time to mentally prepare for the show, which actually added to the excitement of it all! I usually spend at least one month studying and researching for whatever show I have next before rehearsals begin. Having merely a few days with the script before rehearsals began has been a new challenge but also so much fun! I have always been a huge fan of old-time movies like Holiday Inn, and I love watching it at Christmastime, so getting the offer to play Linda in this show was the sweetest surprise and such a gift! I am especially excited to sing one of the most beautiful Christmas songs-"White Christmas-with my wonderfully gifted friend Caleb Schaaf who plays Jim Hardy! I am also looking forward to the partnering I get to do in this show. I have an amazing dance partner (Dwight Robinette, who plays Ted Hanover), so getting to glide across the stage with him every night will never get old for me!
BWW: Most people are probably familiar with the 1942 movie on which the stage musical is based. What do you think makes Holiday Inn such a great story for live theatre?
Francis: The note given by the writers in the beginning of the script describes this show as a "joy machine." That is exactly what Holiday Inn is- a joy machine! As in every good story, there are experiences of heartbreak, conflict, and obstacles, but through it all there is a sense of joy that underlies every moment of this show. The story of Holiday Inn is so active and the relationships between the different characters are so dynamic that it is extremely engaging to watch on stage. Putting this story on stage makes it "A show within a show" which makes it come to life all the more! Also, the music in this show calls for big, exciting dance numbers which are always exciting on stage!
BWW: Holiday Inn features so many popular Irving Berlin songs-which one is your favorite and why?
Francis: My favorite song of Berlin's in this show has to be "White Christmas." While the holiday season can be difficult for many, I believe it is a time where a good majority of people experience a joy and peace that they might not experience as often or in as great measure during the rest of the year. Berlin's lyrics in "White Christmas" paint a beautiful picture in your mind and the accompaniment underneath makes the lyrics soar. In my experience, Berlin's accompaniment along with his lyrics in this song in particular really transport you.
BWW: Tell us a little about your character, Linda. In what ways do you think audiences will relate to her?
Francis: Some characteristics that I think describe Linda best are as follows: resilient, determined, selfless, empathetic, and optimistic. She has been through a lot. Her mother left her father for another man, so she left her dreams and life in New York to come back and take care of her father who later passed away. She faces decisions over the course of the show which force her to choose between two things she loves very much. I think everyone can relate to having to choose between dreams. Some have career aspirations that they lay down for the sake of having a family or taking care of loved ones while others choose their career over those things. No matter the choice, there is sacrifice with nearly every decision we make, which is something I think every person has had to face at some point. Also, Linda's dreams change throughout the show. People change every day, and so do our dreams. My dreams when I was 12 are not the same dreams I have now at 22. They change, expand, and mold depending on our circumstances, the people we meet, etc. I think Linda's story will hit home for a lot of people in very different ways.
BWW: Holiday Inn is often thought of as a Christmas musical. But, the Holiday Inn in the show is actually an inn that is open only on holidays, meaning it is open on every holiday, including Independence Day and Valentine's Day. In your opinion, what is it about the show that gives it special meaning around the Christmas holiday?
Francis: While Holiday Inn isn't solely a Christmas musical, many think of it as such. I think this is because the show spends more time in the scenes set at Christmastime compared to the other scenes and also because "White Christmas" is such an iconic song that really sticks in people's minds. The Christmas scene is a big scene right before intermission, and we come back to a replicated version of this scene at the end of the show which gives the show more of a Christmas feel.
BWW: What do you think will stand out the most to audiences about this production of Holiday Inn?
Francis: I think people will be really taken aback by how much dancing there is in this show! There are several big dance numbers that bring so much life to the stage. The show is very exciting to watch and the story is so active and stirring that I think people will leave feeling very full, stirred, and hopefully bubbling with joy!
BWW: In Holiday Inn, several of the characters have an opportunity to appear on screen rather than on stage. Have you ever performed in a film or TV show? If so, how did it differ from your experience on stage? If not, is it something you'd be interested in doing some day, why or why not?
Francis: I have had one on-camera experience that I loved! I was in a music video for the band "Sleepy Man" for their song "Same Same Stars." It was an amazing experience and very different from the stage. First of all, you don't film everything all at once. It feels more like you are rehearsing with a camera on you because there isn't the same pressure of having a live audience to perform for, and you can film multiple takes. You have to play things a lot smaller for the camera than you do on stage. When I perform on stage, I want the people in the last row to experience the story that is being told just as vibrantly as the people in the front row, which means I have to react in a stronger and more noticeable way on stage than I have to on camera. The camera picks up every subtle movement in your face, so it definitely requires less movement than performing for the stage does while keeping the same intensity and commitment to the story. I would love more opportunities to get behind a camera.
BWW: It's a busy time of year-why should our readers make time to see Holiday Inn?
Francis: The theatre at The Dutch Apple is such an intimate, cozy space. Doing this big show in that intimate space will really make the whole room come to life. It is one of those holiday excursions that I think will leave such a sweet memory in the audience's minds and will leave their hearts feeling very full!
Don't spend your whole holiday "dreaming of a white Christmas", gather your friends and family and join us for Holiday Inn at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre. This show is sure to have you "Shaking the Blues Away", so visit www.dutchapple.com to get your tickets today.