BWW Review: Irving Berlin's HOLIDAY INN at Marriott Theatre

BWW Review: Irving Berlin's HOLIDAY INN at Marriott Theatre

With its abundance of classic tunes and tightly choreographed ensemble numbers, Irving Berlin's HOLIDAY INN is the perfect fit for the Marriott Theatre, a company that excels with dance-heavy shows in its intimate, in-the-round space. Denis Jones directs and choreographs a talented cast in this regional premiere of the 2016 Broadway musical (which Jones also choreographed). Based on the 1942 film featuring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, the stage adaptation makes some vital updates (for example, cutting the film's blackface number), while capitalizing on the nostalgia of songs like "White Christmas," "Happy Holiday," "Blue Skies," and "Cheek to Cheek."

Michael Mahler stars as Jim Hardy, a musician who leaves New York and show business to settle on a farm in Connecticut. He proposes to his song-and-dance partner, Lila Dixon (Kimberly Immanuel), who accepts him but promptly leaves for a touring gig with the third member of their original trio, Ted Hanover (Will Burton). While Lila and Ted dance their way across the Midwest to Las Vegas, Jim embraces the farming life with the help of lively jack-of-all-trades, Louise (Marya Grandy).

When the farming proves a disaster, Jim hatches a plan with his newfound friend Linda Mason (Johanna Mckenzie Miller), a charming, reserved schoolteacher who once aspired to be a performer. They open the "Holiday Inn" at the farm, bringing in Jim's New York friends to put on shows every holiday of the year. Along the way, Linda rediscovers her love of the stage and develops a relationship with Jim, ultimately leading her to a crossroads between the glamor of show business and the pleasures of a simple life.

Miller gives a strong acting performance as Linda; she is sweet, sincere, and utterly believable (no stereotypes of the lonely spinster here). She is well paired with Mahler as Jim, and they share heart-warming moments such as the scene when he first sings his new song, "White Christmas," for her. Though Mahler's vocals are underwhelming in this role, he's able to show off his piano skills on stage, accompanying himself and other vocalists as well as soloing with the orchestra. As a Jeff Award-winning composer and lyricist himself, it's a fitting role.

The dancing is where this cast truly shines, however. Will Burton, whose Broadway credits include AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and HELLO, DOLLY!, tears up the stage as Ted, Jim's friend and member of his former trio. Kimberly Immanuel matches Burton step-for-step as his vivacious dance partner, Lila Dixon. The full ensemble delivers Denis Jones's fast-paced choreography with energy and apparent ease, bringing Irving Berlin's tunes to rousing life.

As Ted Hanover says, "Every now and then it's a good idea to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy." Spending an evening in the theater with a joyous show like HOLIDAY INN is a good way to start.

HOLIDAY INN runs through January 6 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL 60069. Tickets are available at 847-634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com.

Photo credit: Liz Lauren

Review by Emily McClanathan

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