One man’s ambition is comfortable yet to another it is anathema. This is the simplest way to convey the central theme of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn – now playing at Papermill Playhouse. The show is a rich, effervescent, beautiful, fun, musical that is well worth booking tickets for. It enthralled my phone addicted 13 year-old and earned a shout out on Instagram - high praise in and of itself.
Based on the classic film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, Holiday Inn features Jim Hardy (Nicholas Rodriguez) leaves behind the hustle and bustle of showbiz for a quiet life on a Connecticut farm. He also leaves behind the two partners in the act Ted (Jeff Kready – perfectly craven) and fiancé Lila (Paige Faure). Ted and Lila continue on in their quest for fame on stage or film. Lila eventually leaves Ted for a millionaire in Texas. Back in Connecticut, Jim meets a talented schoolteacher (Hayley Podschun), and together with Jim’s performer pals they transform the farm into an inn with holiday themed performances. Holiday Inn features more than 20 classic songs from the Berlin catalog, including “Easter Parade,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Steppin’ Out with My Baby,” “Blue Skies”, “Heat Wave” and “White Christmas.”
This is a strong, highly entertaining, amazingly choreographed production. The book (Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge) is full of snappy one-liners and the plot moves steadily. Comic relief is amply and gamely provided by Ann Harada as the farm/inn’s handywoman. She also has a fun turn dancing with the ensemble while wearing milk cans on her feet. The choreography (Denis Jones) is fabulous and the ensemble is more than up to his ingenuity. Their dancing is robust and uniformly magical. In "Shaking the Blues Away," the ensemble merrily dances while simultaneously jumping rope. Jones' consistently inventive choreography provides the large ensemble cast plenty of opportunities to strut their stuff. This is a beautifully sung and danced show.
Kready is well cast (albeit a touch sinister) in his ambition but his talent matches it perfectly. One can easily see the appeal of songwriter/singer Jim hitching himself to Ted’s talents. However he’s got a star turn all his own dancing with grace and panache. His act two is particularly well honed with a dance with firecrackers and a tremendously well-timed number where he searches for the perfect dance partner.
Rodriguez has a velvety smooth singing voice and charms entirely. Podschun is a tremendous singer and hoofer. She and Rodriguez are perfectly cast. Faure is equally strong and her Lila matches Kready’s ambition and talent. Their numbers are perfectly executed and visually stunning.
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Alejo Vietti’s costumes and fabulous Easter hats, embrace ’40s swank, showbiz glitz and stylish down-on-the-farm casual. Anna Louizos’ scenic design captures night clubs, the farmhouse and barn simply and effectively. Greenberg’s direction is pert and well paced. The wonderful Berlin songs provide ample, familiar pleasures with much to admire. This Holiday Inn is definitely worth checking into.
Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn runs now through December 30th at Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn. Tickets and more information at papermill.org
Photos by Jerry Dalia