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Holiday Inn
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin, Book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Choreographed by Denis Jones
The Muny
July 6, 2015

Noah Racey, Patti Murin, Colin Donnell Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Noah Racey, Patti Murin, Colin Donnell
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

The Muny has a storied history in St. Louis over its almost 100 year life span, and I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to see a Muny show in the 1940s and 1950s. That was the heyday of the big, classic spectacle-type musicals, as well as Hollywood musicals such as Holiday Inn and White Christmas. Well, now it looks like I’ve had my chance, with the Muny’s latest production of the newly adapted stage version of Holiday Inn. Revised and expanded from the original film version, this production takes most of its original score, adds more songs from famed composer Irving Berlin, and blends them together into a classy, bold and tuneful tribute to Hollywood musicals and the song-and-dance shows of yesteryear, with a sense of energy and spirit that makes the show seem fresh and approachable without seeming dated.

Although I’ve seen a lot of classic Hollywood musical films, I had actually never managed to see the original Holiday Inn film. That doesn’t matter at all, though, in terms of being able to enjoy this festive, affectionate treat of a show.  Apparently the story has been modified from the film’s plot, but the general idea remains. It tells the story of two long-time friends and performing partners–singer/songwriter Jim Hardy (Colin Donnell) and dancer Ted Hanover (Noah Racey), who have just performed their last show at a New York club with their partner Lila Dixon (Holly Ann Butler), who is also Jim’s girlfriend. While Jim wants to retire to a historic farm he just purchased in Connecticut, Ted and Lila want to take an offer to perform at another club in Chicago, and so they decide to split up, with Lila promising to join Jim after she’s finished the gig. Eventually, things get complicated as Jim moves to the farm and meets Linda Mason (Patti Murin), a schoolteacher and former singer/dancer whose family used to own the farm. As the months go by, Jim and Linda grow closer and the bills pile up, prompting the farm’s handywoman Louise (Nancy Opel) to suggest he use the farm as a hotel and show venue. With Linda and some old friends from New York joining in, “Holiday Inn” is born. Meanwhile, Ted arrives fresh from a run of successful performances in Chicago and Las Vegas and looking for a new dance partner.  What will happen when he meets Linda? What will Jim do when his friend returns to tempt Linda with the prospect of showbiz success? And what about Lila?

It’s a fairly predictable plot, but none of that really matters because it’s all just so entertaining, with the right balance of comedy, drama, spectacle and romance, and all those wonderful production numbers expertly performed by the leads and the Muny’s fantastic ensemble. There are many classic Berlin songs here, from iconic ballads like “White Christmas” and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” to elaborately staged extravaganzas like “Easter Parade” and the inventive and energetic “Shaking the Blues Away”. Classic dance songs like “Cheek to Cheek” are here as well, and all of them are presented with the requisite style and charm. Dance-wise, there’s lots of tapping, as well as slower styles and lots of strong ensemble support.

The cast couldn’t be better, from the leads to the supporting roles and the cohesive ensemble. The show has even managed to find a Fred Astaire look-alike and dance-alike in the charming, debonair Racey, who isn’t imitating Astaire but manages to evoke the famed hoofer’s spirit while adding his own flair to the role. Real-life married couple Donnell and Murin display electric chemistry as Jim and Linda, and both are fantastic singers able to sing these timeless classics in the right style and with a great deal of warmth. Opel is a hoot as the jill-of-all-trades Louise, providing excellent comic support and  superbly leading one of the show’s best numbers, “Shaking the Blues Away”. Butler gives a fun performance as the showbiz-obsessed Lila, and young Phoenix Lawson is memorable as one of Linda’s students, the budding entrepreneur  Charlie. It’s an extremely strong cast with no weak links, and the Muny ensemble is put to use in ideal fashion.

Visually, the show is a fitting tribute to both Hollywood movie musicals and the old-style stage spectacles the Muny has been famous for. With a versatile cloud backdrop and a revolving set that serves as the inn as well as the barn/stage, Timothy R. Mackabee’s set is suitably impressive. And the costumes, by Alejo Vietti, are simply stunning, with colorful styles suited to the 1040s period setting as well as the various holiday themed numbers–from elaborate Easter bonnets to glamorous New Year’s attire to patriotic styles for the 4th of July, and more.

This show is, simply put, a whole lot of fun. It’s charming, colorful, old-fashioned in the best sense of the word and thoroughly entertaining. It’s a fitting show for showing off the best of the Muny’s current regime while celebrating the styles and musical theatre traditions of the past. Holiday Inn at the Muny is well worth checking into.

Holiday Inn ensemble Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Holiday Inn ensemble
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

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