In the midst of Philly’s Fringe mania, comes a touch of nostalgia in the form of Walnut Street Theatre’s production of IRVING BERLIN’S HOLIDAY INN. Though it was developed in recent years, the show is a throwback to an era of musical comedy, where characters can burst into song just because, and everyone else joins in just because they can, sometimes including the audience.
This is what Walnut Street Theatre does so well—create a feel good musical experience that lets the audience leave the theater humming. The story, about a performer who only wants to live quietly on a farm with the girl he loves, deals with issues like betrayal and alcoholism and foreclosure with a smile, and doesn’t care to look too deeply into the characters’ lives and motives. It has production numbers, including a jump rope dance, that has the audience cheering, and it makes one long for a kinder, gentler time when a rivalry between a singer and a dancer seemed to matter.
Based on a 1942 film of the same name, this version of Holiday Inn seems to be a paean to a simpler way of life. But knowing that the original film was in production when Pearl Harbor was bombed means that nothing is ever that simple. As Jim (Ben Dibble) finds out, when farming turns out to be ever so much harder than he imagined, life can be difficult, best friends can be devious, and falling in love doesn’t always mean a happily ever after.
Dibble’s Jim Hardy, a performer who falls in love with every girl he meets, and who longs for that imagined simple life on a farm, radiates goodness and talent and fills the stage with his voice and his presence. Philly favorite Mary Martello, who plays Louise, an overinvolved farmhand, carries the comedic aspects through rousing song and dance and good humor. Ted’s love interest, Linda (Cary Michele Miller), is all spunk and verve, with a voice that was occasionally a tinge too brassy, while the part of Ted Hanover (Jacob Tischler), is so underwritten, that though we can admire his dancing, it’s hard to see why he’s able to steal away Jim’s girlfriends.
Some of the show’s problems come from the script itself. Conceived as a vehicle for creating a song for each holiday, a few of which, like White Christmas and Easter Parade, are still classics, the show nevertheless takes a long time to find its way. Two story lines, saving the farm and getting the girl, vie for center stage, even though the happy ending is never in doubt. The set (designed by Robert Andrew Kovach) shifts from night club to farmhouse as easily as the company of dancers fill out their many roles.
Despite a few drawbacks, this production of IRVING BERLIN’S HOLIDAY INN is an enjoyable way to spend an evening watching some very able young singers and dancers show just how talented they are.
[Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street] September 4-October 21, 2018; walnutstreettheatre.org
One Reply to “IRVING BERLIN’S HOLIDAY INN (Walnut Street Theatre): Longing for a time that never was”
“Holiday Inn” is one of my all-time favorite classic movies, the story of two show business guys, one looking for a quiet life and one shooting for the stars. The story works based on one being suave and cool and the other who is calm and sweet.
The casting for the character of Ted Hanover (Ted Hanover: JACOB TISCHLER*) makes the character act silly and lacking that cool slick, sexy, put together dancer that makes both Lila and Linda beguiled by him. The character of Ted is intended to have that leading man Hollywood appeal but this casting shows no passion. The fire cracker dance routine looked like “Jerry Lewis tap dancing” for a gag. The tap dancing was off and nothing clean smooth about it.
Lila Dixson (Lila Dixon: BONNIE KELLY*) and her ill-fitting blonde wig could not pull off the alluring dance partner and never looked connected to any emotion or character.
Linda Mason (Linda Mason: CARY MICHELE MILLER*) although her singing is great at times she modernized the phrasing of the music and took away from the era of the music.The dance routine between Linda and Ted was not impressive at all and showed even less chemistry.
In the movie version Linda is looking for her break and when she goes off with Ted its due to falling for Ted’s charms and the promise of fame. No connection of these two on stage, no pull of heart strings nothing.
The one genuine actor and performance that saved this show from being a total bomb was, Louise: MARY MARTELLO* and also Jim Hardy: BEN DIBBLE*
Mary Martello gave the spark and the feeling that was missing from everyone else. Her comic timing and scenes were my favorite. And although Jim Hardy: BEN DIBBLE’s over acting at times made up for his casts lack of passion his singing was amazing.
This show was a thumbs down. I expected more than a high school rendition of this great musical.