BWW Review: A JUBILANT HOLIDAY INN at SHAW FESTIVAL
A frothy holiday confection playing out in Hollywood inspired Technicolor-come-to-life is the best way to describe the Shaw Festival's jubilant production of Irving Berlin's HOLIDAY INN now onstage at their Festival Theatre. Based on the 1942 movie of the same name starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, HOLIDAY INN has been overshadowed a bit by the later Berlin hit WHITE CHRISTMAS. But thanks to some crackerjack casting and a huge budget, The Shaw has breathed new life into the 2014 stage version written by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge.
The story unfolds as the song and dance act of Jim Hardy, Ted Hanover and Lila Dixon are dying on the road, never knowing where or if there will be a next gig. Jim proposes marriage to Lila and wants her to give up show business and move to Connecticut, where he has bought a farm. At the same time a new job has come in and Lila decides she'll go out on the road for 6 weeks with Ted, but then settle down on the farm. As Jim ventures to the country, he meets the former farm owner Linda Mason. Her attempt at being an actress failed years ago and now she is the town school teacher. Jim realizes he is poor at farming and devises a plan to open the farm as an inn on holidays with holiday themed shows. Romance ensues and a Hollywood ending caps the night.
Kyle Blair perfectly anchors the large cast as Jim with his velvety smooth singing and innocent nature. Kyle Golemba is a ball of fire as the hoofer Ted, full of energy and razzle dazzle dancing. His second act dance "Let's Say It with Firecrackers" was exciting and electrically charged. Kimberly Rampersad is Lila, and her dry wit and sultry presence made her "Heat Wave" number sizzle.
Kristi Frank as Linda is cut right from the Vera Ellen mold of Hollywood dancers. Her voice is pleasant enough, but her lithe dancing and statuesque presence made her everything one expects from a hometown girl with star presence. And no 1940's musical would be complete without a wise cracking old broad, in this case Louise the farm's "handyman" is played by the riotous Jenny L. Wright. Usually clad in overalls and trying to play matchmaker, Ms. Wright lands every joke and near brings down the house as she sings "Shaking The Blues Away." Festival regular Jay Turvey is always amusing as the stereotypical Jewish producer Danny.
The Festival's Associate Artistic Kate Hennig is also the stage director for HOLIDAY INN, and does a fine job of pacing the evening and rallying the cast to give some high energy performances. The fantastic choreography by Allison Plamondon is reminiscent of the graceful Hollywood musicals with elegant turns, dramatic arm gestures, and perfectly arched backs. But whimsy finds it's way into the dances, notably when the women are dressed in turkey inspired costumes for the Thanksgiving number "Plenty to be Thankful For." Irving Berlin's score is an embarrassment of riches, and includes "Steppin' Out With My Baby," "It's a Lovely Day Today" and "White Christmas," among others.
Designer Judith Bowden has created simply stunning costumes, from flowing evening gowns, endless holiday inspired costumes and luxurious outfits for each member of the large cast. Every detail has been noted, including footwear that probably required it's own sizable budgets. Her sets are lovely, accented by lush curtains to add dramatic effects. Music Director Paul Sportelli has assembled a lush orchestra that rounded out all of the high production values seen in this production.
The ensemble is multi-talented, taking on many small roles, but shining in their glorious dance abilities. Clad in Ms. Bowden's fantastic costumes, their "Easter Parade" was also a glamorous fashion show with fantastic Easter hats atop their heads. The Shaw Festival hasn't always been on solid footing when presenting musicals, often casting actors whose singing talents are not up to par with their acting. This time they are firing on all cylinders with HOLIDAY INN, with nary a weak link to be found. Just like it's latest holiday play A CHRISTMAS CAROL, one can only wish that HOLIDAY INN becomes one of the Festival's calling cards, resurfacing in seasons to come.
HOLIDAY INN plays at the Festival Theatre of The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake through December 22,2019. Contact shawfest.com for more information