BWW Review: HOLIDAY INN at The Walnut Theatre

BWW Review: HOLIDAY INN at The Walnut Theatre

The Walnut Theater opens its 210th season with HOLIDAY INN with music by America's songwriter, Irving Berlin. One is invariably impressed by the institution's lavish sets (Robert Andrew Kovach) and the quality and attention to detail of their entire Creative Crew.

In this production, however, Costume Designer Mary Folino created more and bountifully colorful costumes than ever before on their stage. Aisle Say would suggest she is eligible for sainthood by Producing Artistic Director Bernard Havard. Period-specific to the 1940's, the appreciative opening night audience was thrilled with this very important 'cast member', a tour de force unto itself. I proffer that after this opening night Mary is resting comfortably in a rural sanitarium under heavy medication.

One must suspend the notion of reality with the dialogue - and most notably - the intros to some of Berlin's treasured tunes. For the precursor to the stage show, the 1942 Hollywood film starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, for which Berlin wrote 12 songs. It was only scant few years later that Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote OKLAHOMA!, the ground-breaking musical epitomizing the development of the 'book musical', a musical play where the songs and dances are fully integrated into a well-made story with serious dramatic goals that are able to evoke genuine emotions other than laughter. With all due respect to HOLIDAY INN writers Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, not so much in this show.

Songs spring out of nowhere. This is not to say they were not wonderfully sung. It simply means sit back and enjoy the presentation in its moment in time.

Two Philly favorites, Ben Dibble (Jim Hardy) and Mary Martello (Louise), along with Jacob Tischler (Ted Hanover), Bonnie Kelly (Lila Dixon) and Cary Michele Miller (Linda Mason) are the leads.

In Jim and Ted, you have the naïf Dibble, who has the most innocent face in Philadelphia theatre. With Tischler's Ted you have the visage of a Latin lover. The two and Lila are fantastic dancers.

Jim and Ted are dancing partners with Lila. Jim gets the audience quickly involved with a thunderous, full-throated "I'll Capture Your Heart", a powerhouse song trumpeting all the octaves this virtuoso performer has to offer.

Jim wants to marry Lila, leave show business and lead the simple life on a farm in Connecticut. "Why get married", says his manager Danny (Fran Prisco), "you were so happy together". Lila has other star-struck ideas and drops Jim to dance with the incredibly talented footsmith Ted.

Jim leaves for the farm and meets the former owner Linda, a sweet librarian who had sung and danced in her former life. (are you following where this is going?) Louise, the do everything farm repairman is in the mix as well.

Music Director John Daniels had his 8 piece live band wired and spirited. Live bands add so much sheen and energy to a production

Stage Direction by Charles Abbott and Choreography by Michelle Gaudette are inventive and creative. The production numbers with the talented ensemble are mesmerizing, most notably "Shake The Blues Away", another number with the cast jumping ropes, the rain sequence and the NOISES OFF takeoff with the female dancers popping in and out of doors. (Now THAT one takes some timing) All were show-stoppers.

Yes, there is schmaltz. Yet the singers sell their songs. Back then, Berlin was always tugging at sentimental heartstrings, "Let's Take An Old Fashioned Walk" comes to mind in that vernacular. Yet he was pretty darn expert at hitting all the holidays: "Easter Parade'; Valentine's Day "Be Careful, It's My Heart"; Independence Day "Song Of Freedom"; Thanksgiving "Plenty To Be Thankful For"; Christmas "White Christmas" and if that was not enough, add "Blue Skies", "Heat Wave", "Cheek To Cheek"

Through October 21 WalnutStreetTheatre 215.574.3550

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From This Author Greer Firestone

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