The Shaw Festival’s winter program continues with the opening of a sparkling production of ‘Holiday Inn’ with music by Irving Berlin, one of the greatest song writers in history. One could toss a cast into a cornfield and a hit would somehow ensue with Berlin songs. However, the Shaw producers clearly knew how to respect the master’s material and built a stunning show around stunning songs. We often use the term ‘ensemble’ to describe a particularly tight cast, but we can consider this musical to be an ‘ensemble’ of leadership in that every department – music, acting, lighting, sets, choreography, costumes – was on full creative display.
Beginning with a joyous welcome ‘Steppin’ Out’ resounds with dance and colour to forecast an ambitious production. Choreographer Allison Plamondon hits the high mark right away and then moves into a spectacular ‘Heat Wave’ – I didn’t say hot. There is not a weakness in the cast as the complex choreography is performed at breakneck speed with polish and ease.
The story, as suggested by the title, revolves through one entire year highlighting all major holidays from Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving. Jim, tired of New York and performing, wants to settle on a Connecticut farm with Lila who rejects the idea. As he gets to know the small-town community, he meets Linda who is also a performer. After a number of disappointments, Jim considers using the farm as a performance space for productions run only for each major holiday. The iconic ‘White Christmas’ opens the Christmas season, and the others follow.
Performance highlights are everywhere. Kyle Blair, as Jim, performs a top notch ‘Blue Skies’ and Gabrielle Jones, as Louise, turns in spectacular comic sequences highlighted by the rousing ‘Shaking the Blues Away.’ Kristi Frank, as Linda Mason, works some beautiful duets with ‘Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk’ and ‘Be Careful, It’s My Heart.’ Kyle Golemba, as Ted, joins the other two in a spirited ‘Cheek to Cheek’ – one of Berlin’s classics. Young Julia Thompson as Charlie Winslow is a delightful young schemer and is lovely in the reprise of ‘Plenty to be Thankful For.’
Costumes and sets designed by Judith Bowden were as impressive as the performers. Moving through all the principal holidays, Ms. Bowden had a lot of material to cover. From pastels for Thanksgiving to iconic red, white, and blue for Independence Day sewing must have been fast and furious. The greatest sizzle came from formal wear in many of the big numbers with crisp tuxedos and brilliant gowns that spiced up the entire night.
For director Kate Hennig, it must have seemed an embarrassment of riches. Having said that, orchestrating so much talent takes a wealth of experience in her craft. Responsibility for a greatest hits list of Berlin songs might seem overwhelming, but Hennig’s result is both commanding and entertaining.
‘Holiday Inn’ by Irving Berlin
Book by – Gorden Greenberg, Chad Hodge
Director – Kate Hennig
Music direction – Paul Sportelli
Choreography – Allison Plamondon
Set and Costumes – Judith Bowden
Lighting – Kevin Lamotte
Sound – John Lott
Cast – Kyle Blair, Kyle Golemba, Vanessa Sears, Jay Turvey, Julia Thompson, Kristi Frank, Gabrielle Jones.
Runs through – December 23, 2021 at The Festival Theatre.
Tickets at shawfest.com