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REVIEW: Nostalgic, Light-Hearted Holiday Inn Hits the Spot (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)

A scene from Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ production of Holiday Inn. Photo by Tom Wallace.

Is your idea of a good night at the theatre a light-hearted tale, pleasant music, interesting dance, and no weighty thoughts at the end of the day? If so, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ new production of Holiday Inn is just what the doctor ordered. It’s not theatre that purports to change society, call you to action, or tell you that you’ve done something bad – just an old-fashioned musical theatre good time.

Old-fashioned musical theatre is not without its faults, and two of this show’s concessions to its World War 2 origins are a predictable plot and very stylized characterizations. (Some poorly aged gags from the film were fortunately excised in the screen-to-stage adaptation.) You’ll find nary a plot twist, but many a costume one and a quite a few old-fashioned jokes about mistaken identities and locking people in barns. And a jump-roping dance number.

Tony Vierling, Jessica Fredrickson, and Michael Gruber in “Steppin’ Out With My Baby”. Photo by Tom Wallace.

Chief in the novelty costumes department is Louise Badger (a scene-stealing Michelle Barber), gifted with chuckle-producing outfit after outfit from costume designer Rich Hamson and some of the best zingers in the script. Chief in the movement department is clearly choreographer Tamara Kangas Erickson, whose work keeps principals and ensemble moving through high-energy number after number with great variety and interest.

As happens with such stories, the initial tight-knit character group is soon fractured by, well, growing things. Jim Hardy (Michael Gruber), Ted Hanover (Tony Vierling), and Lila Dixon (Jessica Fredrickson) go their separate ways in show business and farm business. Naturally, it’s not the end of Jim’s show biz days – that would be a terrible waste of Gruber’s many on-stage talents – and before long he meets Linda Mason (Ann Michels). Soon, the different story threads are producing separate show-within-shows, which really means that there’s going to be musical, dance, and costume variety up the wazoo. No one ever accused Irving Berlin of writing tunes that were hard to listen to, and this batch is pretty groovy.

This isn’t a script that really lends itself to depth, but the leads are charismatic and appealing, and Gruber and Michels neatly sell what could easily have come across as a hackneyed romance. (One hopes that they never put this power to evil and go into used car sales.) Around the edges, Nayna Ramey’s sets are constantly transforming little ways, and director Michael Brindisi’s vision keeps the work sweet but not saccharine.

Recommended Meal: Vegetarian Edition

Appetizer: Roasted Garlic Hummus

Entrée: Vegetable Lasagna enhanced with Sautéed Mushrooms

Wine: La Crema Pinot Gris

Dessert: Triple Berry Tart

Recommended Meal: Omnivore Edition

Appetizer: Steamed Potstickers

Entrée: Chicken Chanhassen

Wine: Maison Montagne (Pinot Noir)

Dessert: Gourmet Carrot Cheesecake

Michelle Barber (top) as Louise/Cupid. Photo by Tom Wallace.

Holiday Inn plays through February 23, 2019 at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in Chanhassen, MN.

Basil Considine

Basil Considine is the Performing Arts Editor and Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. He was previously the Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and remains an occasional contributing writer for The Boston Musical Intelligencer and The Chattanoogan. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.

Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.

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