by Lynn on November 29, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. until Dec. 23, 2021.

Holiday Inn

At the Festival Theatre.

Based on the film from Universal Pictures.

Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin

Book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge

Directed by Kate Hennig

Music conducted by Paul Sportelli

Choreographed by Allison Plamondon

Set and costumes by Judith Bowden

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Sound by John Lott

Cast: Kyle Blair

Kyle Golemba

Vanessa Sears

Jay Turvey

Wren Evans/Julia Thompson

Kristi Frank

Gabrielle Jones

Plus the ensemble.

A feel-good musical given a feel-good production.

The Story. Holiday Inn is based on the 1942 film by Universal Pictures. 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 touring and wants to quit so he’s bought a farm in Connecticut and expects Lila to go with him. 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 upcoming holidays with Linda starring (she also sings in a choir) and an idea for the failing farm is born. Jim will open the farm as an inn but 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. This is a remount of a production they did a few years ago and with a few cast changes I think this production does very well. Judith Bowden designed the pastel-coloured set and beautiful costumes for this feel-good show. Kate Hennig directs and her attention to detail has the audience looking closely. At one point Linda (Kristi Frank) finds one of her father’s pipes in the house and smells it just to keep a sense of her late father. It was a lovely bit of ‘subtle business’

Kyle Blair as Jim Hardy and Kristi Frank as Linda Mason are effortless in establishing their mutually attracted relationship. There is a lovely chemistry between these two. Blair has an easy grace when he sings and moves and Frank is an accomplished singer and lively dancer as well. Gabrielle Jones is smart-talking, dry-joke-cracking as Louise, a woman of many abilities around the place.

Allison Plamondon created the lively choreography.

Comment. Holiday Inn is a feel-good musical written by a master—Irving Berlin.  The show is full of songs that have become standards: such gorgeous songs as “Blue Skies”, “It’s a Lovely Day Today”, “White Christmas”, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” “Cheek to Cheek”. It’s astonishing but of the 20 songs (without reprises) there are at least 15 songs that became a hit.

A Christmas Carol

At the Royal George Theatre.

Based on the Charles Dickens novella written in 1843.

Adapted and originally directed by Tim Carroll.

Directed by Molly Atkinson

Sets and costumes by Christine Lohre

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Original music and original music direction by Paul Sportelli

Music direction by Ryan deSouza

Movement and puppetry by Alexis Milligan

Cast: Jason Cadieux

Peter Fernandes

Patti Jamieson

Andrew Lawrie

Julie Lumsden

Marie Mahabal

Marla McLean

Graeme Somerville

Kelsey Verzotti

Kelly Wong

Graeme Somerville is a wonderful, revelatory Scrooge.

The Story. It’s Christmas Eve and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is in an irritated mood. He hates all that carol singing and giving any money to charity. His nephew Fred comes to wish him a happy Christmas and invites Scrooge to spend Christmas with his family. Scrooge is incensed and he’s aggravated that Fred married for love. Scrooge is irritated that his clerk, Bob Cratchit, wants Christmas Day off as a holiday.  Scrooge is taught a lesson about generosity of spirit and kindness when he is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former partner, as well as three spirits of Christmas: past, present and future.

Production. Is this a traditional version of the story? Sort of.

This production of A Christmas Carol first appeared at the Shaw Festival in 2017 with Tim Carroll (the Artistic Director) adapting the Dickens novella and also directing it.

I had issues with that production, such as the attempt of using local references to give the story a Niagara-on-the-Lake homey feel: there are references to the All-Year Christmas store and Greaves Jam store. These references are still in the adaptation and got barely a titter in recognition. And truly, would Scrooge really want anything in his house as frivolous as Christmas decorations and jam? There has to be some respect for the source material.  

This current production is directed by Molly Atkinson and uses the same set and costumes  by Christine Lohre, and a lot of Tim Carroll’s original staging, which alas often looks like a high school production—characters throw snow in the air to suggest it’s snowing; a plank of wood balanced on the head of a character is Scrooge’s desk; in another context the plank is a creaky door. It just seems tired rather than creative.

But Molly Atkinson has also added her own director’s touches and there have been some improvements on the original production.  Puppets (mainly created by Alexis Milligan) factor heavily in this production. The Cratchit children are suggested by puppets and are full of detail and beautifully crafted especially the one for Tiny Tim.

The huge apparition of the ‘ghost’ of Jacob Marley–black billows of material and a top hat floating above it and the Ghost of Christmas Past, an overpowering expanse of white cloth with a ghost-like head —are particularly effective. Some puppets that were confusing in the original are not present in the Atkinson version of the production.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is played by Peter Fernandes who, for some reason, makes his entrance on heel skates. I did find this mystifying when this was done in 2017, only then it was roller skates. Again, it’s a long way to go for a weak contemporary joke. And lot of the dialogue for the Ghost of Christmas Present seems like a poor attempt at an Abbott and Costello routine. It wears thin very quickly and I’m mystified by this attempt at humour where it undermines Scrooge’s journey to redemption.    

We get a glimmer of Scrooge’s sad childhood and his heartbreak in love, as played in silhouette by cut-out figures behind a white curtain. The scenes are quick and frankly I thought the poignancy of these moments was lost.

But Scrooge is played by Graeme Somerville, a stalwart of the Shaw Festival, and he’s a revelation. There’s a lot of baggage with this part what with all the various films of the story available, not to mention all the live productions of A Christmas Carol that are out there.

But Somerville plays Scrooge as a person who is irritated at all the cheer around him, since he has had the cheer drummed out of him from life’s various disappointments: his adored younger sister died young. His beloved fiancé Belle broke their engagement because she said that Scrooge loved money before he loved her. Somerville is not playing anger and rage, it’s much subtler and deeper than that. And it’s so refreshing seeing this accomplished actor dig deep into the character to create a fresh, vibrant, moving character.

Scrooge is a person who knows what kindness is because he has been treated to it in the past. He is sensitive enough to see, via the ghost of Christmas Present, that Bob Cratchit and his family are poor and don’t have enough food and that pains him. Scrooge just needed to know in this dramatic way with these startling spirits, that one needn’t be a miserable human being. There is another way of looking at the world.

Marla McLean is a lovely, kind Mrs. Cratchit. And Kelly Wong is joyful as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew.    

While I do have some concerns about this production, I would be accused of being a humbug if I didn’t recommend it at this festive time of year. And while I still find some of the silliness of the adaptation irritating and ill-placed, it can’t overpower that A Christmas Carolis a great story of redemption and that kindness and generosity can change a person’s outlook on life. And Graeme Somerville is giving a revelatory performance as Scrooge. A gift.  

So yes, see it.

The Shaw Festival presents:

Holiday Inn and A Christmas Carol play until Dec. 23, 2021.

Running Time: approx. 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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