Drury Lane's taptastic 'Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn' serves up seasonal cheer
"Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn" -- ★ ★ ★
Like the 1942 film that inspired it, "Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn," which premiered on Broadway five years ago, is a quaint, jukebox tuner whose appeal rests with its greatest-hits score and its exuberant production numbers.
For proof, look no further than Drury Lane Theatre's taptastic revival directed and choreographed by the great Matt Crowle, who fully understands why the wholesome "Holiday Inn" is the right musical for right now.
In his program note, Crowle references the COVID-19 pandemic and how the resumption of live theater can buck up dispirited audiences. He writes: "sometimes the remedy to what ails you is as simple as tapping your toes and humming along to a tune that's been cheering up weary souls for generations."
That's the function of the 1946-set "Holiday Inn," where Berlin favorites "Steppin' Out With My Baby," "Blue Skies," "Cheek to Cheek" and the enduring "White Christmas" make up for a hokey plot. Making this confection that much sweeter are its production numbers -- whose exuberant, old-school choreography recalls musical theater's golden age -- and its talented cast led by the affable, effortlessly graceful Adrian Aguilar.
Crowle coaxed Aguilar out of retirement to play the role of crooner Jim -- one third of a song-and-dance act -- who decides after years on the road to retire from show biz and live quietly on a Connecticut farm. This comes as a surprise to his partners -- girlfriend Lila (Darilyn Burtley) and best friend Ted (Drew Humphrey, a fine dancer) -- neither of whom are inclined to exit the stage. They continue performing while Jim retreats to the farm. There he meets "fix-it woman" Louise (the dynamic Danielle Davis) and onetime aspiring-singer-turned-schoolteacher Linda (Erica Stephan) whose family lost the farm to foreclosure. Facing the same fate, Jim agrees to Louise's suggestion to transform the farmhouse into an inn open only on holidays, with Linda and his fellow singer/dancers providing the entertainment. His venture and his budding romance with Linda are upended by Ted, who having been abandoned by Lila, returns in search of a new female partner and sets his sights on Linda.
Aguilar and Stephan make a charming duo. Moreover, Crowle's small but mighty ensemble is comprised of top-flight tap-dancing singers evidenced by the joyful "Shaking the Blues Away" and Humphrey's superb "Let's Say It With Firecrackers." The latter includes a duet with Nicole Scimeca, who alternates with Lily Kocourek in the role of Charlie, a precocious youngster whose sole purpose is to remind Jim of his increasingly dire financial situation.
Ultimately, Drury Lane's "Holiday Inn" delivers what Crowle promises: Holiday cheer in cozy Technicolor, just when we need it most.
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Location: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111, drurylanetheatre.com
Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday; 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 9
Tickets: $59-$74 with dinner-theater packages available
Running time: About 2 hours, 10 minutes, including intermission
Parking: In the lot
Rating: For all ages
COVID-19 precautions: Patrons must wear masks except when eating or drinking