Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"Holiday Inn" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Christmas may be over for another year, but that doesn't mean we have to stop celebrating. After all, Christmas is only one of many holidays celebrated around the world, and only one of the seven holidays celebrated in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' gorgeously fun production of the Broadway musical Holiday Inn. Based on the 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire movie of the same name, the musical debuted on Broadway in 2016, and is now receiving its Minnesota premiere. This is the kind of thing that Chanhassen does best - a big splashy musical with wonderful recognizable music and fantastic dance numbers. If you didn't see it this holiday season, don't worry, it's still playing through February 23, and there are still plenty of holidays to celebrate.

Ten reasons to see Holiday Inn even though Christmas is over:
  1. Christmas is not the only holiday, or even the most important one depending on your culture. In addition to Christmas, Holiday Inn also celebrates New Year's, Valentine's Day, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and a wedding. It's a show to be enjoyed year-round (and Valentine's Day happens during the final month of the run).
  2. That Irving Berlin sure knew how to pen a tune! The stage musical incorporates songs from the movie as well as other Berlin songs. This Russian Jewish immigrant captured 20th Century America perhaps better than any other songwriter of his era. Songs like "Blue Skies," "Heat Wave," "Easter Parade," and of course, "White Christmas" will keep you tapping along and leave you humming a tune. (Kudos to Andy Kust in his first time music directing at the Chan for making everything sound splendid!)
  3. The story is an old fashioned romance with a more modern feel than if the play were written in 1942 as the movie was. Without belaboring the plot, performing trio Jim, Ted, and Lila split up when Jim decides to quit show business and become a farmer (because that's easy to do on a whim). He meets local school teacher and former performer Linda, and the two predictably fall in love. But I appreciate that he chased after her when she pursued a career in L.A., and even offered to move there if that's what she wanted. Linda's a woman who enjoys her independence, and made her own choice about her future.
  4. The huge cast is chock full of talent and a joy to watch, beginning with the four leads. Michael Gruber is charming and smooth-voiced as Jim; Tony Vierling perfectly embodies the light on his feet dancing showman Ted; Jessica Fredrickson is a delight as the blond and bubbly Lila, another woman who knows what she wants; and the always wonderful Ann Michels is a Linda to empathize with and root for. The foursome has chemistry in all directions, and sounds and looks gorgeous.
  5. Go see this show for the comic relief that is Michelle Barber as the Inn's caretaker Louise, a sort of '40s Rosie the Riveter type who knows how to get things done. Michelle is a hoot and a half, and lights up every scene she's in.
  6. The structure of the show is basically an excuse to have lots of dance numbers, as Jim's show biz friends visit him and put on a show. And the Chan's resident choreographer Tamara Kangas Erickson has outdone herself with this one. Not only is every number sharp and exciting (and perfectly executed by the ensemble), but she also threw in some jump rope tap dancing!
  7. The dreamy period and multi-holiday costumes just keep coming! Turkeys! Red, white, and blue sparkles! Pale pink flowing gowns! Easter bonnets!! It's a year-round extravaganza of costume decadence (designed of course by Rich Hamson).
  8. The set is a warm and cozy rustic farmhouse, that will make you want to curl up under a blanket and stay a while. Non-farm scenes take place in front of a lowered curtain, but that farm/inn is the highlight. And as is often the case, the Chan extends the set into the audience, with cast members entering and exiting through the audience and even leaving a few treats.
  9. I often refer to the Chanhassen as the comfort food of musical theater, in a good way! The shows are warm and satisfying, but not risky or edgy (which thankfully is covered by other theaters in town). And you also get literal comfort food, hence the "dinner" in the name. I had the veggie lasagna and it was delicious and very filling! But not so filling that I didn't order dessert, because where else can you get dessert delivered to you at intermission?! Going to the Chan feels like a special occasion, and can turn any day into a holiday. (If you have special dietary needs or restrictions, ask your wait person for a special menu or other accommodations, or call the box office before your visit.)
  10. What better way to get over the post-holiday blahs and make it through the bleak midwinter than with a warm, colorful, heart-warming show at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres?!
Michael Gruber, Ann Michels, and Tony Vierling
(photo by Tom Wallace)