Paper Mill Playhouse pulls out all the stops for its 80th Birthday Holiday Spectacular–a new stage adaptation of Irving Berlin’s “Holiday Inn!” You may be familiar with the Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire movie musical from 1942, but this new show, with book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, with Greenberg directing, is an updated version in many ways. Hold on to your hats, my friends, this is time travel with dance and it is dazzling. Berlin originally conceived this as a stage vehicle. When Hollywood picked it up, several songs were cut. For movie aficionados, see whether you can recall which were in the film and which were added here–you’ll truly need to be sharp!
It’s 1946 and Jim Hardy (Nicholas Rodriguez), Ted Hanover (Jeff Kready), and Lila Dixon (Paige Faure) are a gleesome threesome who are entertaining sensations in New York City. Jim is a crooner, Ted and Lila are hoofers, and Lila sings, too, and they’ve developed an act with songs written by Jim. While they are regionally famous, Ted and Lila have Hollywood dreams and want to build on the trio’s success playing the circuit, but Jim’s had enough. He wants Real Life. Toward that end, he asks Lila to marry him and join him on a farm that he’s purchased in … Connecticut! Timing is everything and Jim’s proposal collides with their manager Danny’s (Jordan Gelber) great news–he’s booked them on a tour that ends at The Pump Room in Chicago! Lila has initially said a resounding “YES” to Jim’s proposal, but performing is in her blood. She and Jim will still be engaged, but Connecticut seems like exile to an NYC gal and she and Ted decide to make their trio a duo and Jim heads off to see what he’s bought.
Jim arrives in Connecticut–pig, meet poke! Jim has bought a large ramshackle farmhouse with 15 bedrooms and current population of one–farm hand and roustabout, Louise (Ann Harada). Louise, familiarly “Lou,” gives him the low down on the property just in time for the former owner, Linda Mason (Hayley Podschun) to come by for a few family mementos. Linda grew up on Mason Farm in happier times, and when her father passed, she and Lou could no longer keep it going. And now the story well and truly begins.
These actors bring our nascent post-War dreams to dazzling life again. In a world where the phone rings off the hook in our pockets now, rather than in a home or office, where we can walk away, it’s nice to return to a time when people actually spoke to one another rather than texting their thoughts. Kready’s Ted dances, with grace and charm, into your heart. As he danced, I found my feet twitching, as though I were dancing with him! Podschun’s pure tone gave me every nuance of each song and her clear, beautiful voice was spot-on perfect. The chemistry between Linda and Jim is so very sweet and as we are catapulted back to a time before swipe-right and swipe-left, the drawing together of these two characters is very dear indeed. Perhaps we can see a pendulum swing back to conversation. Rodriguez’s voice is very strong and beautiful, but style-wise there were too many glottal strokes and modern Broadway flourishes for a period piece set in 1946. Unfortunately, it took me out of the story where the other characters did not and for me, blend is so important to an ensemble piece like this.
Faure breathes such life into Lila Dixon that it’s easy to see her human-ness. Such a gamine gal, presented with the path to her dream, she makes the hard choice. This frees Jim up for the true girl of his dreams but he would not have found his path so quickly if it weren’t for the meddling of Lou. Harada is a comic treasure! I first saw her live in “God of Carnage” and then I saw her everywhere! She is razor sharp with her wit and she belts out songs with a dynamic force that seems to come from her toes. She has a great scene with the ensemble, when they are decorating the Inn for Christmas, and you may find yourself beginning to laugh whenever she comes on stage, knowing that Lou has a scheme, plans that work both short range and also are part of a longer range whole. Forget cowbell–MORE HARADA!
There are a lot of things we could worry about in the world. Do a bit of time travel with Paper Mill, settle into one of their brand new, very comfortable seats, and work out your abs with some good, old-fashioned fun! Tickets are available now at www.papermill.org
–get them now, or you will truly be out in the cold for the Holidays. The show runs through December 30–Happy Diwali-Chrisma-Chanu-Kwanzaa-kah!