“Holiday Inn,” now appearing at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, provides a wonderful weekend holiday getaway in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
Directed by Katharine Quinn and choreographed by Kerry Lambert, this production is an updated stage version of the iconic 1942 Hollywood movie musical from the World War II era, a Paramount film which gave us such American holiday staples as the Irving Berlin songs “White Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.”
The movie also gave rise to the internationally-present Holiday Inn hotel chain, which licensed the name for its then-new hotels!
The plot involves entertainer Jim Hardy (memorably played by Bing Crosby in 1942), leaving show business and a failed relationship to pursue happiness by “cultivating his own garden” at the decrepit Mason Farm, which he has recently purchased in rural Connecticut. Lazy but still bitten by the show biz bug, Jim turns this farm into an entertainment venue called Holiday Inn, so named because it only opens for visitors on major holidays, with shows themed around the particular holiday season.
Along the way Jim meets and becomes enamored with, his neighbor (and former performer) Linda Mason; his idyllic situation is threatened, however, when Jim’s former show-business partner Ted Hanover (played in the film by Fred Astaire) arrives and threatens to capture Linda’s affections for himself.
The Dutch Apple music and production numbers of this version of “Holiday Inn” are simply spectacular!
“Steppin’ out with my Baby” (set in a medley with “I’ll Capture Your Heart Singing” and with a feel for jazz by the orchestra directed by JP Meyer) brings us immediately into the story. It introduces us to talented singer Caleb Schaaf as Jim Hardy, who briefly shows in this number he can emulate the cadence of Bing Crosby’s vocals. Here we also meet the gifted dancer Dwight Robinette as Jim’s arch-frenemy, Ted. Crosby and Fred Astaire are such recognized personalities that Schaaf and Robinette do well not to try to impersonate these two Hollywood legends, but instead, they strike out on their own in successful performances without relying on our memories of Crosby and Astaire.
Two other singers who must be mentioned are Bridgitte Francis (as Linda Mason) and Bonner Church (as the comic relief figure of Louise); each provides sparkling vocals and wit to this delightful show!
Staging and direction are excellent as well. Early in the show, the song “Blue Skies” is used to provide a fabulous transition between entertainment venues in the city and Jim’s new life in the country.
“It’s a Lovely Day Today,” associated in the 1950s with another Berlin show and in the 1990s with background music on David Letterman, is used to show in a touching way how Jim’s earlier romance with a woman named Lila Dixon is doomed; he loves the simple rural life, while she dreams of show business stardom in the big city.
The 1940s style costumes and fashions are also wonderful, though the show sometimes magically transports us forward in time with some of its musical numbers; at one point, we find ourselves as if in a Latin dance club performing “Heat Wave” to a 1950s mambo beat which conjures memories of the Edmundo Ros Orchestra of the period.
There are also numerous references to Las Vegas, an entertainment venue that would not loom so largely on the entertainment map until the advent of jet travel during the 1950s and 1960s.
The character of Linda Mason noted, “there is a change in music, a change in rhythm, a change in dancing” between the various musical eras, as well as between city and country. In the show, the characters have to decide which environment suits them better – bright lights and big city, or the quiet and simple life of the country.
This show allows audiences to revel in the very best that each has to offer, with fabulous presentations of the music and attitudes of each. This reviewer cannot think of a better way to consider this question, and to celebrate the holidays, than coming to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, “checking in” at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre’s “Holiday Inn,” and, as the master of ceremonies says, “celebrating an entire year of holidays!” The production is playing through Jan. 4, 2020, at 510 Centerville Road, Lancaster, Pa. 17601. For more information, please consult the website at: www.dutchapple.com