Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre Delivers A Brand New Production Of Irving Berlin’s “Holiday Inn” Just In Time For A White Christmas

Matt Owen as Ted Hanover and Taryn Darr as Lila Dixon in Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn - Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka

Nostalgia reigns at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, where the feel-good Broadway musical, “Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical,” is now playing. Adapted from 1942 Oscar-winning film of the same name, the new version has a story line similar to the film and features 20 Irving Berlin songs, including “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade” and “Blue Skies.”

Lorna Luft, daughter of film and television icon Judy Garland, makes her 5th Avenue debut in the production. She joins the cast of local and national talent, including Eric Ankrim, Sarah Rose Davis, Matt Owen, and Taryn Darr. Luft portrays Louise Badger, who plays matchmaker for the four leads and turns the romantic chaos into happily-ever-after.

The musical features Berlin’s music, with a new book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge. James A. Rocco and 5th Avenue Theatre Executive Producer/Artistic Director David Armstrong co-direct the 5th Avenue production, which runs through December 31st. Rocco also choreographs.

Eric Ankrim as Jim Hardy and the Cast of Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn - Photo Credit Tracy Martin

Eric Ankrim as Jim Hardy and the Cast of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn – Photo Credit Tracy Martin

The revamped book is a piece of fanciful fluff. But it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the wonderful music by Berlin. Much of the film score was kept, but several songs omitted, such as, understandingly, the minstrel number performed in blackface. The musical adaptation mixes songs from the Berlin canon with those from the original movie. Not just the super hits, “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade,” but additional favorites as well as tunes from earlier and later Berlin shows.

Added are Berlin classics like “Blue Skies,” “Stepping Out With My Baby,” “Shaking the Blues Away,” “What’ll I Do?” and “Heat Wave, ” Several less known gems included are “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” “The Little Things in Life” and “Nothing More to Say,” a song Berlin wrote for a movie that was never produced.

Reset in sunnier days of the post-war era, Jim, Lila, and Ted are members of a performing trio. Jim wants to leave show biz for the “good life,” so he buys a farm in Connecticut with plans to run a country hotel. He’s in love with Lila and wants her to join him. But she has other ideas. So Jim leaves town with a broken heart.

After finding out the farm owes back taxes, he decides to turn the farm into an inn which will only be open on holidays. And he will write and performs songs for each holiday. When he meets Linda, a local teacher and aspiring performer, he books her—and falls for her. All is well until Ted shows up, after being dumped by Lila, and decides to pursue Linda.

Meanwhile, Louise Badger (Luft) acts as Cupid, and she deals with a quiver full of complications. Jim loves Lila. Ted loves Lila. Lila loves Lila. Lila breaks Jim’s heart. Lila goes off with Ted. Lila dumps Ted. Jim meets Linda. Jim loves Linda. Linda loves Jim. Ted arrives at the Inn. Now Ted wants Linda. Linda argues with Jim and leaves with Ted. Jim goes to Hollywood to find Linda. Lila takes Linda’s place in the film. Lila and Ted reunite. Jim and Linda marry.

The role of Linda is one of the new book’s major character rewrites. She’s now a scrappy school teacher, former owner of the farm house Jim bought, and of course, she’s always harbored show biz ambitions.

“Holiday Inn” is sometimes confused with the 1954 film “White Christmas,” since it also centers on a Connecticut inn and stars Bing Crosby. The hit song was actually first featured in “Holiday Inn.”

Film buffs have long debated their favorite, “Holiday Inn” or “White Christmas”… Unlike “White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn” is not just a Yule-time show; it’s a musical with 10 holidays. Berlin originally conceived the show as a possible stage revue centering on the major public holidays. When a film producer asked him if the hit-making composer had any ideas for a movie, Berlin suggested his holiday concept.

Irving Berlin was an American composer and lyricist, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century and in the American Songbook. The irony is, although Berlin was a Jewish immigrant, his songs became the sound track for some of America’s religious holidays, they weren’t his holidays. He was born Israel Isidore Baline in 1888. When he was five years old, his family fled Russia in 1893 to escape religious persecution and immigrated to America. They settled on the Lower East Side of New York City, where his father was a canter. By the time he was eight years old, he was hawking newspapers on the street. It was there he heard the music coming out of the salons and restaurants. He started singing songs while selling papers. People would toss coins to him. (Our dear leader would have classified him as a Dreamer and sent him back to Russia.)

Sarah Rose Davis as Linda Mason and Eric Ankrim as Jim Hardy in Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn - Photo Credit Tracy Martin

Sarah Rose Davis as Linda Mason and Eric Ankrim as Jim Hardy in Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn – Photo Credit Tracy Martin

Dropping out of school in his early teens, Berlin left home and joined the city’s ragtag army of other young immigrants, living in one of the lodging houses that sheltered thousands of other homeless boys in the Lower East Side. After his father died in 1901, Berlin began earning money as a street singer. Although he couldn’t read music, he taught himself to play the piano while working as a singing waiter. It was the beginning of his illustrious career. From there he would go on to become one of America’s greatest patriots and composers.

Berlin lived until he was 101 years old, and during his lifetime, he wrote over 1,500 songs. He wrote scores to 13 Broadway musicals, contributed to seven revues, wrote songs for 12 classic Hollywood movie musicals and created many of the most well-known popular songs of the twentieth century.

An intuitive businessman, Irving Berlin also co-founded ASCAP, founded his own music publishing company, and built the Music Box Theatre to house his “Music Box Revues.” For his paean to his beloved country, “God Bless America,” he established a fund which receives all revenues from the song and distributes it to the Boy and Girl Scouts.

Legend has it that Berlin wrote a song a day, and it was almost always written and played entirely in the key of F-sharp, allowing him to stay on the black keys as much as possible.

In a 1962 interview, Berlin said, “The black keys are right there, under your fingers. The key of C is for people who study music.

“My ambition is to reach the heart of the average American, not the highbrow nor the lowbrow but that vast intermediate crew which is the real soul of the country. The highbrow is likely to be superficial, over-trained, and super sensitive. The lowbrow is warped, subnormal (Deplorable?). My public is the real people.”

Perhaps composer Jerome Kern said it best, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music–he is American music.”

“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.

Act I

  • “Overture” – Orchestra
  • “Steppin’ Out with My Baby/ I’ll Capture Her Heart”
  • “The Little Things in Life”
  • “Blue Skies”
  • “Marching Along With Time”
  • “Heat Waves”
  • “It’s a Lovely Day Today”
  • “Plenty to Be Thankful For”
  • “Plenty to Be Thankful For” (reprise)
  • “Marching Along With Time” (reprise)
  • “Nothing More to Say”
  • “Shaking the Blues Away”
  • “White Christmas”
  • “Holiday Inn / Happy Holiday”
  • “Let’s Start the New Year Right

ACT II

  • You’re Easy to Dance With”
  • “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk”
  • “Be Careful, It’s My Heart”
  • “Cheek to Cheek”
  • “Easter Parade”
  • “Song of Freedom”
  • “Let’s Say It With Firecrackers”
  • “Nothing More to Say” (reprise)
  • “White Christmas” (reprise)
  • “Finale”

About Lora Luft
Lorna Luft makes her 5th Avenue Theatre debut as Louise. Born to Judy Garland and producer Sid Luft, Luft began her career on her mother’s TV show. Her theater credits include Promises, PromisesSnoopyExtremitiesGuys and DollsGreaseMameLittle Shop of HorrorsGirl CrazyGypsyThe Wizard of Oz and Pack of Lies. She has been seen on television and in film in Grease 2Where the Boys Are (’84); Trapper John, M.D. and Murder, She Wrote. Luft co-produced Life with Judy Garland, the Emmy-winning miniseries based on her memoir Me and My Shadows. She celebrates her mother’s songbook in a one-woman show and CD, Songs My Mother Taught Me. Among Luft’s numbers: “Shaking the Blues Away,” has a special place in her heart. It was introduced in her mother’s film, “Easter Parade” by Ann Miller. FYI: Her son and his family live in Seattle.

The Cast
Lora Luft (Louise)
Eric Ankrim (Jim)
Taryn Darr (Lila)
Sarah Rose Davis (Linda)
Matt Owen (Ted)
Richard Gray (Danny)
Caden Brauch and Kristoffer Holtan (alternating as Charlie)

The Ensemble
Tate Busby
Kate E. Cook
Gabriel Corey
Alex Crozier
Jade Solomon Curtis
Lauren Du Pree
Paul Flanagan
Nik Hagen
Laura Elizabeth Henning
Jordan Jackson
Emily Ann Johnson
Danielle Kelsey
Cyana Paolantonio
Richard Peacock
Tia Petersen
Jonathan Luke Stevens
Joel Walker
Carolyn Willems Van Dijk

The Creative Team
Irving Berlin, Music & Lyrics
Gordon Greenburg and Chad Hodge, Book
David Armstrong, Co-director
James A. Rocco. Co-director and choreographer
Caryl Fantel, Musical Director
Anna Louizos, Scenic design
Cathy Meacham Hunt, Costume coordination, based on the designs of Alejo Vietti
Duane Schuler, Lighting design
Christopher Walker, Sound design
Mary Pyanowski Jones, Hair and makeup design
Larry Blank, Orchestrations
Sam Davis, Vocal and dance arrangements
Bruce Pomahac, Additional dance and vocal arrangements
Albert Evans and Kat Sherrell, Additional arrangements

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times “Style” section for her “Word Portraits,” specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that “Starla” is indeed her real name.

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