Surflight’s ‘Holiday Inn’ Is a Veritable Dance Marathon

By RICK MELLERUP | Jun 12, 2019
Courtesy of: Surflight Theater

Beach Haven — I’ve been watching a lot of hockey lately, thanks to the fact that my beloved Boston Bruins have advanced to the seventh and final game of the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

I thought of hockey when taking in a performance of “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” at Surflight Theatre last Friday evening.

It is traditional, you see, to name “three stars” at the end of every National Hockey League game. My problem? How to pick the three stars of this very fine production, directed and choreographed by Paula Hammons Sloan.

“Holiday Inn,” based on the 1942 movie starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, is an old-fashioned musical, with a book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge that revolves around a love story, a gaggle of classic Berlin songs, and the most tap dancing you’re likely to see at Surflight this summer. I tend to frown on many old-fashioned musicals because they’re, well, too old-fashioned, but I’m smiling about this one.

Jim Hardy (Logan Farine), Ted Hanover (Bobby Davis) and Lila Dixon (Erica Messonnier) are a song-and-dance trio that is poised to hit the big time. Jim asks Lila to marry him and she accepts. But she is somewhat put off when he announces he has purchased a rundown farm in Connecticut and intends to move there, eschewing show biz. When their manager Danny (David Discenza) tells them he has booked a six-week tour Lila says she’ll join Ted to create a duo and will arrive at the farm after the tour has ended.

Jim moves to the country and is greeted almost immediately by Charlie Winslow (Robbie Crandall), a young boy employed as a messenger by the bank that holds the mortgage on Mason Farm. Charlie delivers a stack of back tax notices and Jim knows he’s in trouble, especially since he doesn’t know the first thing about farming.

Luckily, he meets Linda Mason (Adrianne Hick), the daughter of the deceased former owner of the farm who is now a schoolteacher in the small town of Midville. She introduces Jim to Louise (Katrina Johnson), a handywoman/farmhand/chief-cook-and-bottle-washer who had worked and lived on the farm for years. Jim doesn’t have enough money to pay Louise, but, no worry, she’ll work for room and board.

Jim still struggles, with Charlie continuing to deliver demanding letters from the bank. And his mood sinks into despair when Lila shows up and tells him she’s not getting married because she’s going to continue to perform with Ted.

Jim and Linda’s spirits improve when a bunch of old showbiz friends arrive on Christmas Eve and throw a party. They come up with the idea of turning the farmhouse, which has 15 bedrooms, into an inn, open only on holidays when musical shows will be performed. Jim will write songs for each holiday to be performed by himself, Linda and their friends and they will make enough money to keep the struggling farm alive. He sings Linda a little ditty he has written, “White Christmas,” as an example.

Their first show is on New Year’s Day, 1947. All is going well until a drunken Ted shows up. Lila has left their act to marry a Texas millionaire. He grabs Linda and begins to dance with her. Jim, jealous because he has started to develop a romance with Linda, decks him.

When Ted wakes up the next morning all he can remember is dancing with an incredible dancer. He can’t remember, though, who she was. After a Cinderella-like search – trying on dancers like the handsome prince tried the glass slipper on his kingdom’s young women – he figures out Linda was the one.

Linda has always had a yearning to be in show biz. So when Danny arranges a deal for Ted and Linda to star in a movie about Holiday Inn she decides to head off to Hollywood.

Don’t worry, all ends well. Remember, this is an old-fashioned musical.

So, back to my hockey analogy. All of the show’s actors turned in good to excellent performances. So, who wins the three stars?

Certainly Sloan is worthy of special mention, because her choreography is spectacular. I knew in advance, thanks to reviews of the show when it was on Broadway, that one tap dance would include jump ropes. I didn’t expect dancing in milk pails though! Costume designer Virginia Buck, too, earned a nod.

But I suppose we’re going to have to give out the stars to people who actually appeared onstage.

Davis was a candidate, thanks to his hoofing skills. Crandall, too, for his portrayal of a cute wise-cracking kid with a slight lisp. Alas, there have been so many cute kids with slight lisps since the days of Winthrop in “The Music Man” – they’re as ubiquitous as Facebook kittens.

So, without further ado:

The third star goes to Hick, who played wholesome so convincingly that you felt truly sorry for Jim when Linda decided to leave him. Toss in the fact that she’s a capable dancer and a wonderful singer and, well, she definitely earned a star.

The second star goes to Johnson. Wearing a red wig, constantly displaying spunk, and just as constantly playing matchmaker, her Louise seemed a combination of an adult Annie and Hazel of TV fame. Besides, tap dancing in milk pails simply has to win a star.

The first star, however, will have to be shared between Ashley Agrusa, Parker Aimone, Michael Bailey, Lexi Baldachino, John Guaragna, Kelsey Kauffman, Jacob Lill, Carrie Mo, Ryan Mulvaney, Julia Rippon, Sara Shomgard and Elijah Vasquez, the ensemble members who, equipped with Sloan’s choreography, danced their buttocks off. Plus, they had to make so many costume changes they must be exhausted after each performance.

“Holiday Inn” will play through June 23. Tickets are $39 for adults and $29 for children 12 years of age and younger. They may be purchased online at surflight.org, by phone at 609-492-9477 or at the Beach Haven box office, either in advance or at the door.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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