It’s A White Christmas At The “Holiday Inn”

The 1942 Movie That Gave Birth To “White Christmas” Has Arrived As A Stage Musical At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
December 14, 2019

Jim Hardy, Ted Hanover and Lila Dixon are an entertainment trio. They sing. They dance. They entertain. They are very good performers. Their contract in a New York City nightclub is ending, and Jim believes he is ready to retire. He has found a farmhouse in rural Connecticut in foreclosure and snaps up the buying rights. Now he needs to convince his dancing partner, Lila, to accept his marriage proposal and move to the Connecticut countryside where they could become farmers.

Oops – Lila doesn’t want to go. She wants to stay as part of the entertainment world and go on dancing with Jim’s best friend, Ted Hanover. Yes, “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn“ is a variation of lots of showbiz fables. The better known musical “White Christmas” has been around forever. That 1954 show’s famous song was actually created for the 1942 movie, “Holiday Inn,” — basis for this current wonder at Candlelight.

Maybe I was grumpy before going to the theatre. The weather had been dismal and the show’s overture was not exciting. Although it contains some famous Berlin melodies, the orchestra wasn’t sounding perfect. I began to wonder why I was spending a holiday night in Johnstown. Shortly into the show, however, something began to click with me.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

I asked myself, “Self, why are you enjoying this show so much?” I pondered my response. Was it because the performers were so talented and so earnestly sincere? Was it because the costumes (all 240 of them) are so incredible? Was it because the dancing is some of the best seen on Colorado stages? Was the orchestra suddenly sounding brilliant? Were the stage set and lighting so very interesting? Perhaps all of the above. This is super entertainment.

Cole Emarine, Ben Griffin and Susanna Ballenski Houdesheldt are the entertaining trio — Ted, Jim, and Lila. They can all sing and dance. Jim leaves showbiz to Ted and Lila and heads to his newfound farm. He finds the property isn’t in very good shape. He is not disillusioned, however, as the daughter of the previous owner stops by to say hello and offer any help he may need. Sarah Kowalski is in great form as Linda Mason, the Connecticut neighbor, a local school teacher. Fortunately for Jim, she has some musical background, and the two are an instant duo. One of the show’s most charming scenes is when Ted and Linda (Kowalski and Griffin) sing “Let’s Take an Old Fashioned Walk.” There is magic in the air.

Jim realizes that he just can’t provide income from farming. He and Linda hatch a plan, heavily supported by Jim’s entertainment friends to turn the farmhouse into a theatre – with shows emphasizing the various holidays. Yep, it becomes “Holiday Inn”

Photo Credit RDG Photography

This turns out to be a beguilingly innocent story, set to the music of Irving Berlin. The music includes such Berlin hits as “Stepping Out with My Baby,” “Blue Skies,” “Let’s Start the New Year Right,” “Easter Parade,” “Let’s Take an Old Fashioned Walk,” “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” and even “White Christmas.”

The four leads are very talented and enthusiastic performers. They are given great support from Annie Dwyer as the crazed farm maintenance worker who apparently “comes with the house.” Eli Emming and Hayden McDonald alternate in the role of Connecticut neighbor Charlie Winslow, a young man with wisdom beyond his years. David L. Wygant is Danny, the entertainers’ friend who wants them to try for the big time in showbiz. The ensemble is also very talented. The dancing skills are amazing.

The show’s “star,” however, is Kate Vallee who serves as director and choreographer. Vallee has put the entire cast through what must have been a non-stop boot camp in making certain every move made was done to perfection. She has extensive background as a director, choreographer, tap dance champion, and four years as a Radio City Rockette in New York City. What she and her well-honed cast provide is sheer brilliance. There is even a jump rope sequence set to music where no one missed a beat. Alissa Spooner is credited as Associate Choreographer. Music is under direction of Phil Forman.

All of the dance routines are excellent. Cole Emarine is given an opportunity to dazzle, as a soloist, and also shines in a great dancing duet with Susanna Ballenski Houdesheldt. The dancing ensemble nearly defies description, as they are all so very good.

This is a light-hearted Holiday treat. For great Holiday cheer this year – go to the “Inn.”

“Holiday Inn”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When: To January 19, 2020 (Many performances prior to Christmas are already sold out)
Information or tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
ColoradoCandelight.com

“Last Train To Nibroc” Is On Track To New York

Bas Bleu Offers A Thoughtful Tale Of 1940s Americana

Reviewed by Tom Jones
December 8, 2019

In late December of 1940 a young man, Raleigh, and a young woman, May, meet on an overcrowded train heading east from Los Angeles. Although both are from rural Kentucky, they have never met before and are enroute to a lifetime of change. Raleigh is still wearing his uniform, after leaving the service just a few hours before boarding the train. He received a military discharge after having been diagnosed as an epileptic.

He is headed “east” – not certain just where he is going, but maybe New York, as he is wary about being accepted back home in Kentucky.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

May has her own wariness. She had wanted to be a missionary, to help others, but ended up chasing a not-so-great boyfriend to California. Now she is returning home, concerned about how she might be received and wondering just what she should do with her life.

Also on the train, but tucked away safely in the baggage compartment, not saying a word, are the remains of two famous American writers (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathaneal West). They died within a day or two of each other and their remains are enroute east for burial. This is to be the final trip for the deceased writers who have provided the public with great observations of the America they chronicled. The two young people are just beginning their journey of life – in an era that will ultimately be unlike any other.

The train is overcrowded; and Raleigh is delighted to find a seat, when the place next to May becomes empty. He has been standing for most of the journey so far, and is exhausted. He is eager, however, to make some conversation with the attractive young woman. May is snippy. She appears to have no interest in speaking with Raleigh or anyone, as she is engrossed in a novel, and appears to care less about how tired Raleigh is, and has minimal interest about the famous authors sharing their train.

Playwright Arlene Hutton has created a uniquely interesting couple. They are strong but needy, and yet inquisitive creatures. They find themselves in this 95 minute convincingly beautiful piece of theatre. Hutton is from Kentucky and her plays include memories of people and events of her past. She has found success as an educator as well as a writer.

Photo Credit Bill Cotton

While the play begins on the train heading east, the audience subsequently looks at the changes faced by the young people from a change-resistant rural area. They are seen as if in a lengthy tribal mating dance, about to be buffeted by the war, and with enormous changes on the horizon. These changes are particularly unusual for the country’s women.

The couple starts a conversation on a train and wind up finding lasting companionship with each other – for better or worse. By play’s end, they have gained insight, wisdom, acceptance, and the realization that they truly can become what they want to be.

This is heartwarming stuff from a potentially health-damaged serviceman whose desire was to fly; and from a well-meaning woman wanting to soar providing help to others as a missionary. Will they fall in Love? Will they find happiness? Or will they become copies of the prejudiced families that produced them?

Steve Keim has directed a heartwarming vision of persons becoming secure enough in themselves to share their observations with others. This is a simple piece of theatre. Lovingly told, beautifully written, and acted with sincerity.

World War II is in the background of their lives. The stories written by Fitzgerald and West were to be replaced by others looking at life in the 40s – such as Ernest Hemingway, Ernie Pyle, James Michener, and maybe even that epileptic serviceman, Raleigh, and others like him.

A production of the show earned a rave review in the Chicago Tribune a few seasons ago. Critic Chris Jones (no relation) commented that the play “is the surprise, a don’t miss of summer.” I don’t share his adoration, but found it to be a very interesting look at a time gone by. It is very worthwhile, very well done, poignant and thought provoking.

“Last Train to Nibroc”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: To December 22, 2019
Information: basbleu.org, or call 970/498-8949