‘Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn’ shimmers and shines at Paper Mill

By LIZ KEILL

MILLBURN, NJ – What could be more enticing than the rapturous music and lyrics of “Irving’ Berlin’s Holiday Inn” to sweep us into a festive mood for the holidays? The show, based on the 1940’s film of the same name, is a perfect choice… and one that keeps us smiling despite disturbing headlines, floods, fires and calamities throughout the country.

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Berlin’s iconic “White Christmas” is movingly, and quietly, delivered by the show’s stars, Nicholas Rodriguez as Jim and Haley Podschun as Linda. His strong yet mellow voice comes through with such old time favorites as “Blue Skies” and “Let’s Take an Old Fashioned Walk.” And the two, indeed, do make beautiful music together. Then we have Ann Harada as Louise, ready with comic relief, who has her own big-bang numbers. The audience couldn’t stop clapping on opening night for “Shaking the Blues Away” complete with dancers jumping ropes and fever pitch action.

The chorus certainly struts its stuff in the “Easter Parade” number, with the women in huge, outlandish hats, reminiscent of Ziegfeld Follies showgirls. Jeff Kready as Ted dazzles with tap dancing to “Let’s Say it with Firecrackers.” Not be outdone is Paige Faure as Lila Dixon with “Heat Wave” and “Steppin’ out with My Baby.” Most of the songs burst with trios or more as the performers engage and shift from partner to partner.

The plot centers on Jim, who decides to leave show business and buy a farm in Connecticut. His partner, Ted, wants to keep performing and has a chance to hit the big time in Hollywood. He talks Lila (Jim’s girlfriend) into coming with him. But when Jim reaches the farm, he’s immediately attracted to Linda, whose family formerly owned the property.

Louise, who has worked at the Mason farm for years, runs interference. Jim has trouble paying the bills and Louise, being a busybody, connects with his former show biz pals and invites them to the farm. Youngster Jian Harrell as Charlie Winslow (alternating the part with Aidan Alberto)  delivers the bad news about overdue bills, with perfect timing, and also spars with everyone around. And naturally, the ‘let’s put on a show’ spirit takes hold as the cast opens Holiday Inn for entertainment on all the major holidays. It’s a great excuse for Berlin’s music. Director Gordon Greenbert has kept up a grand pace with this fast moving show. Choreography by Denis Jones sizzles and the scenic design by Anna Louizos shifts swiftly from backstage to a farmhouse to nightclubs. Lighting by Jeff Croiter adds to the shifts from quiet moments to high energy scenes. Music Director Shawn Gough keeps those melodies humming along. Costumes by Alejo Vietti are stunning.

You could hardly ask for a more appealing treat than a visit to “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn.” Performances continue at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through Dec. 30. For tickets, call 973-376-4343 or visit PaperMill.org.