By Barry Reszel
Adrian Aguilar, performance is in your blood, in your voice, in your feet. You belong on Chicagoland’s stages.
Aguilar graces the gorgeous Oakbrook Terrace theatre this holiday season, courtesy of some coaxing from director/choreographer Matthew Crowle, who convinced him to break a nearly four-year performing hiatus. Audiences are certainly grateful Aguilar could be lured. The Broadway (Rocky), television (Chicago PD, etc.) and Midwest-large stage veteran is a glorious leading man.
In a time when once-popular movies become Broadway’s newest titles (Mrs. Doubtfire, Pretty Woman, Tootsie are recent examples), and the Wikipedia page dedicated to this genre weighs in at more than 200 titles and counting (you may see them here), it took 72 years for the star-studded (Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds) Holiday Inn to make it live and another two to come to Broadway.
Unlike the money grab that many movie-to-stage musicals devolve into, Holiday Inn is a terrific holiday counter to yet another retread of White Christmas, Wonderful Life, 34th Street, Christmas Story, Christmas Carol or Elf. Instead, Drury Lane’s Holiday Inn sets the holiday mood with a tuneful, vibrant junket into a simpler time filled with an abundance of ensemble tap numbers.
It’s overall excellent entertainment, though the ensemble feels a tad thin on Drury’s large stage. Four couples (two fewer than in Marriott’s excellent 2018 production on a much smaller performance space) perform Crowle’s lovely choreography while also knocking out some tremendous harmonies of Irving Berlin hits. These terrific performers, led by dance captain Mandy Modic, include Jessica Blair, Joe Capstick, Leon Evans, Danielle Jackman, Ayana Strutz, Edward Tolve and Arik Vega.
There are so many similarities between Holiday Inn and White Christmas, starting with the title song of the latter, first performed in the former. Add to that a professional song and dance duo with an ability to get an ensemble into a remote space for an old pal, an inn on the verge of collapse and a schmaltzy love story. Holiday Inn‘s original screenplay by Claude Binyon and Elmer Rice was reworked for the stage by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, who added several other hits from to the Berlin songbook while keeping the basic plot line. And the plot works better than that of White Christmas, at least on the live stage.
The story is of a Connecticut country inn bought by a show-biz dropout in search of a balanced life who finds it with the love of the inn’s former owner and an acquiescence to the business he knows best, but only on holidays. (Read more details here.) As this holiday show is really a holidays show, patrons are treated with myriad Berlin hits including, “Heat Wave,” “Blue Skies,” “It’s a Lovely Day Today,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Shaking the Blues Away,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Easter Parade” and “White Christmas,” among others.
Making the performers look and sound their best is a team of consummate backstage professionals, always key to the Drury Lane experience. They are Linda Madonia (music director), Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenery), Lynda Myers (costumes), Lee Fiskness (lighting), Ray Nardelli (sound), Bryce Cutler (projections), Cassy Schillo (props), Lindsay Drexler (associate director) and Darian Tene (associate choreographer).
Back onstage, it’s easy to see Crowle had some help convincing Aguilar to make his performance return. There’s no better leading lady on Chicagoland’s stages than the gorgeous, talented, delightful Erica Stephan, whose turn as once-and-future performer Linda Mason, Hardy’s love interest. So, too, the footwork of Drew Humphrey as Hardy’s performance partner Ted Hanover is notable. And the comedic timing of Danielle Davis as Louise, the Inn’s forever super, deserves a Jeff nom.
Song highlights abound, and this reviewer’s continual ear worms of “It’s a Lovely Day Today,” “Cheek to Cheek” and “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk” in the days after seeing the production is telltale.
With so much recent sequestration and uncertainty for the days ahead, Chicagoland’s musical theatre patrons should treat themselves to this finely performed, old-style Broadway show. There are far worse places to check in for a Christmas/New Year’s staycation than Drury Lane’s Holiday Inn.
Drury Lane Theatre presents “Holiday Inn” through January 9 at 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. For tickets or more information, please click here.
Photos by Brett Beiner.