It is practically impossible to celebrate Christmas without hearing an Irving Berlin song. One of the greatest American composer/lyricists, his music celebrates not only Americana but especially the holiday season. And to further celebrate in Seattle the 5th Avenue Theatre presents the new stage production, “Holiday Inn.”
The story revolves around the entertainment trio involving Jim Hardy (a song man), Ted Hanover (a dance man) and Lila Dixon – the talented woman singing and dancing between them. After a series of continual lulls in business (the year is 1946), Jim decides he’s had enough and proposes marriage to Lila. The plan is to marry so they can retire to the farm Jim just bought, and live the quiet life that Jim always dreamed about living. Right after Lila accepts, the team’s manager comes in and announces the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance for a major booking. While Jim remains staunch on his position to leave, Ted and Lila both decide to stay with the act and continue as a duo. While the new team travels with the act, Jim finds little joy in his practically bankrupt farm. That is until he meets Linda Mason, a talented young lady who happens to be the farm’s former owner. With the help of Louise, the local handy-woman that moves in to help out, mixed up hijinks and romance turn out to be the farm’s leading crops.
The large cast of “Holiday Inn” is all energetic and absolutely fantastic. The Ensemble all act together to build a great supporting cast allowing their work to shine without stealing attention from the main leads. Together (and sometimes in brief solo spots) they dance up a storm making a wonderful ensemble.
The incomparable Lorna Luft plays Louise, the busybody woman that does odds-n-ends on Jim’s farm. She fully embodies the endearing ‘flighty’ assistant that was quite popular in the family-type movies of the 1950’s and early 60’s. Her character is charming, adding comic relief and the audience responds easily. When Ms. Luft opens her mouth to sing all of her training comes through as the master performer that she is. When she holds a solitary note, easily belting it to the back rafters of the theatre, the true ‘Garland’ legacy emerges. There is no doubt of her lineage, nor the full range of the incredible vocal talents that is her birthright.
The two male leads are Eric Ankrim and Matt Owen. Mr. Owen’s tap dancing is superb, being crisp and clear with every step. He embraces Ted Hanover, the egotistical dance man with polish and grace. His vocals hold their own when he sings (and demonstrates) “You’re Easy to Dance With”. Eric Ankrim easily slides into any character he takes on, and Jim Hardy is no exception. His crooning voice is perfect for the classic ballads of “Blue Skies” or the seasonal anthem of “White Christmas”. Mr. Ankrim exudes his charm with everything he does, and the audience embraces him.
The main leads are really the two women of the show. Taryn Darr plays Showbiz struck Lila Dixon, while Sarah Rose Davis plays the dreaming schoolteacher Linda Mason. Ms. Darr and Ms. Davis are musical bookends that perfectly balance each other not only with their physical looks (Darr is a blonde to Davis’ brunette), but also with their strong vocals and stage presence. Ms. Darr plays the ambitious performer looking for the big break. She is as delightful as she is talented playing the ‘smart-dumb blonde’ anxious for success. Ms. Darr’s talent is absolutely seductive, especially when performing the hit song “Heat Wave”; she ‘certainly can can’. Ms. Rose is Linda Mason, the former owner of the farm with back-burner dreams of being a performer. The character is idealistic with feet rooted in her own simple community. Ms. Davis’ voice is sweet and powerful as she takes on such Berlin classics like “Nothing More to Say” or the beautiful duet “White Christmas”. Her dancing is graceful and she moves beautifully about the stage showing she possesses talent in a variety of ways.
“Holiday Inn” is a perfect seasonal musical complete with laughs, romance, great dancing and wonderful songs. The storyline is perhaps a bit formulated but the show is fun none-the-less. When it comes to classic (and classically styled) musicals, the 5th Avenue exceeds and produces a fantastic show. “Holiday Inn” is no exception.
“Holiday Inn” is based on the 1942 film by the same name. The film originally stared Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as the song and dance team, with Virginia Dale as Lila. The movie’s score was written by Irving Berlin and introduced the song “White Christmas”. The song would be the unexpected smash hit and would go on to win the 1943 Academy Award for Best Song. The stage production was first presented in 2014 and opened on Broadway in 2016 for the holiday season.
Irving Berlin’s “Holiday Inn” runs through December 31 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, tickets start at $29, available at www.5thavenue.org, by phone at 206-625-1900 or at the Box Office at 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle.