BWW Review: 5th Ave's HOLIDAY INN Hits All the Right Notes but Misses the Spark
I should start, Dear Readers, by saying that I've been spoiled where the stage musical of "Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn" is concerned. Spoiled by the filmed version of the recent Broadway incarnation which captured every single ounce of Broadway magic you'd want. So, while the current production of this wonderful Irving Berlin classic at the 5th Avenue is a lot of fun and looks quite like the Broadway (not surprising since the sets and costumes were based on the Broadway designs) it just didn't quite live up to that spark of the Broadway for a few key reasons that we'll get to in a bit.
But first let's go over the story based on the classic movie and many people's holiday favorite. We begin with Jim Hardy, Ted Hanover and Lila Dixon (Eric Ankrim, Matt Owen, and Taryn Darr), three song and dance performers wowing audiences with their sensational trio of an act. But when their gigs begin to dry up, Jim decides he wants to give up the rat race of show business and settle down in the country on a farm with Lila by his side as his wife and so he buys a farmhouse in Connecticut and proposes. Lila is thrilled but now Ted and their agent Danny (Richard Gray) have come up with a new tour for them that Lila just can't pass up so she goes on tour with Ted vowing to meet up with Jim once it's over. Jim heads to the farm but knows nothing about farming and has difficulty making a go of it. Lila finally shows up but only to tell him she can't stay and leaves him. Jim is about to give up when he has the idea to turn the farm around by doing what he does best, show business, and turning the farm into a hotel that puts on shows but only on the holidays and thus Holiday Inn is born, with the help of former owner Linda Mason (Sarah RoseA. Davis) and wise cracking handy"man" Louise (Lorna Luft).
It's the classic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets new girl, boy almost loses new girl, let's all sing and dance about it. My biggest problems with the 5th Avenue production is that I felt a little cheated. The choreography from James A. Rocco was good but it didn't quite build to a thrilling frenzy like you would want. Even in the big production numbers like "Shakin' the Blues Away" the dancers as choreographed seemed more interested in their individual bits than in a big number and so no build. And I must question the choices made with Matt Owen as Ted. He's supposed to be this incredible hoofer yet as choreographed people mostly danced around him so either Owen wasn't that good a dancer, in which case, why cast him especially with such incredible other dancers right there on stage, or Rocco didn't know how to make him look good or both. Plus, the show lacked much in the way of stakes as directed by Rocco and David Armstrong. Sure, they hit all the bits and jokes but the overall story was lacking. And all that is what kept that spark from appearing in the show.
But again, this is me being picky and spoiled for a show that I've seen how good it can be. Having said that there are some wonderful moments and elements to the show. Let's start with Luft as we always should whenever we discuss things wonderful. She's hilarious from the moment she sets foot on stage and a complete force of nature and of course there's that voice. Ankrim and Davis have lovely chemistry together once their relationship is allowed to get going and Davis, especially, belts like nobody's business. Darr is a delight as the fame hungry Lila. I just wish the character had more to do. Owen is fun as the scheming Hanover but a little one-note. And the ensemble of singers and dancers are incredible each killing it with A VERY OLD Broadway style.
So, is the show a good one? Sure. Will you enjoy yourself? Of course, I did even with all my issues. And without context or frame of reference to compare it to, it's a wonderful production. And so, with my three-letter rating system if give 5th Avenue Theatre's "Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn" an enjoyable YAY-. The YAY is for the fact that it's a fun show. The minus is due to the fact that I DO have that frame of reference and that gem will never leave my memory.
"Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through December 31st. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.