Review: HOLIDAY INN at the Shaw Festival

by Lynn on December 2, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin

Book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge

Directed by Kate Hennig

Music direction by Paul Sportelli

Choreography by Allison Plamondon

Designed by Judith Bowden

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Sound by John Lott

Cast: Kyle Blair

Kristi Frank

Kyle Golemba

Clara Poppy Kushnir

Kimberley Rampersad

Jay Turvey

Jenny L. Wright

Plus a chorus of 14.

An uneven, laboured  production saved from being forgettable because of the sterling performances of Kyle Blair, Kristi Frank and Jenny L. Wright.

The Story. Jim Hardy is part of a song and dance trio with his girlfriend Lila Dixon and best friend Ted Hanover. But Jim is fed up with show business and wants to quit so he’s bought a farm in Connecticut and expects Lila to go with him. He proposes to her on the last night of their latest gig. But Lila has other plans. She wants to do one last gig and will do it with Ted as a duo. Jim reluctantly goes to Connecticut to start his new life and waits for Lila to join him.

At the farm he meets Linda Mason, the previous owner who had to give up the family farm because of her father’s ill health (he later died) and the fact that she was a teacher and could not continue to run the farm as well. There is an attraction between Linda and Jim immediately.

There is no attraction between Jim and farming. He has no skill in growing anything. But by luck, coincidence, whatever, he’s visited by the chorus men and women of his previous act and they decide to put on a show for the up coming holidays with Linda starring (she sings in a choir) and an idea for the failing farm is born. Jim will open the farm as an inn only for the many and various holidays and put on a themed show for each event. Lila does not return but Ted does and that means competition for Jim with Linda. It seems that in love Ted always horned in and stole Jim’s girlfriends.

The Production.  The picture-perfect town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. was all decked out for the holidays with every lamppost, every tree, every bush and picket fence outlined in white lights up and down the main street. Even the horse-drawn carriage with two brave tourists in the back of the carriage was outlined in white lights.

Judith Bowden designed the pastel-coloured set and beautiful costumes for this feel good show. Initially the set seemed rather paltry with a few pieces indicating the front door of Jim’s farmhouse, a narrow structure for planting, and some other bits and pieces for the rest of the place. This sure made the Festival Theatre stage seem huge and bare.

When Jim’s Holiday Inn shows get off the ground and become more expansive, that’s when designer Judith Bowden’s designs become more lavish with staircases going up and pillars over there and flags etc. that fill the space.

Kate Hennig directs a bright and smiling cast that work hard to be charming. Only Kyle Blair as Jim Hardy and Kristi Frank as Linda Mason seem effortless in pulling off their mutually attracted relationship. There is a lovely chemistry between these two. Blair has an easy grace when he sings and Frank is an accomplished singer and lively dancer as well.

I wish the same could be said of Kyle Golemba as Ted Hanover and Kimberley Rampersad as Lila Dixon. I got no sense of any chemistry between these two characters at all, only effort to seem at ease.

While the 1942 film of Holiday Inn, with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, is not mentioned in the program credits, for some reason Judith Bowden references Fred Astaire in the costume for Ted Hanover in the “Let’s Say It With Firecrackers” number. Astaire often appears in films in which he uses a tie as a belt as he did in the film of Holiday Inn in the “Let’s Say It With Firecrackers” number. So there is Kyle Golemba as Ted Hanover with a wide bit of a tie hanging down from the belt of his pants. This is an unfortunate reference because Golemba is no Fred Astaire. At times I thought that Golemba’s feet got ahead of the beat.

Clara Poppy Kushnir plays a sassy Charlie Winslow and Jenny L Wright is smart-talking, dry-joke-cracking as Louise a woman of many abilities around the place. They provide much needed comic relief.

Allison Plamondon provided the choreography (is it really too much to ask that a theatre program actually note the artist’s biography of credits and not the ‘touchy-feely’ stuff now listed about their first time going to the theatre. Do we really have to go searching on the Shaw’s website for this credit information? But I digress.)

Except for Kyle Blair, Kristi Frank and Jenny L. Wright I found this effort of creating  holiday joy to be plodding and laboured. And when put it in the context of the ticket prices, of which the top price is $183, this production of Holiday Inn is not good enough.

Comment. An immigrant wrote this show. He and his family escaped the Russian pogroms against Jews and landed in America in 1893. He was five years old. His name was Israel Beilin but it was mis-spelled on a piece of sheet music and he kept the ‘misspelling’ of Irving Berlin. Irving Berlin. That name has a kind of music to it. No other composer/lyricist captured the greatness, accomplishment, joy, promise or generosity of America like Irving Berlin. Song after song in Holiday Inn alone—“Steppin’ Out with My Baby”, “Blue Skies,” “It’s a Lovely Day Today,” “Let’s Take An Old-Fashioned Walk,” “Easter Parade”—proves that point. Pity this production isn’t better.

Presented by the Shaw Festival:

Opened: Nov. 23, 2019.

Closes: Dec. 22, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

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