There is one thing I’ve said before and I’ll continue to say it again and again -- Chanhassen Dinner Theatre just gets it when it comes to musical theatre. They know how to entertain in all aspects of not only entertainment but also dining and hospitality. From the moment you walk into the building, you’re under a spell in which you just know you’re in for a treat. Clearly they are also doing something right because this October they celebrated their 50th birthday. Yes, that’s right. This is a great milestone for any theatre and is celebrated across the state. Minnesota’s very own Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed Friday, October 12, 2018 “Chanhassen Dinner Theatres Day.”
The proclamation stated various facts about Chanhassen that shows their long and dedicated history and roots in Minnesota.During their run they’ve staged over 237 professional theatrical productions across four different stages. These production also were designed and executed exclusively by Minnesota artists from the designers, to the performers and even the musicians. They are also the largest employer of musical theatre professionals in Minnesota, the largest professional dinner theatre company in the United States and is the home to the largest privately-owned restaurant operation in Minnesota. As you can see, again, there was plenty to celebrate which is why on their 50th birthday, Chanhassen celebrated celebrated with opening night of their current running show, Holiday Inn: The New Irving Berlin Musical.
This new musical is actually based on the Paramount Pictures film, from 1942, of the same name. The story involves a variety of performers who all have their own desires. Jim has a great life with his girlfriend Lila as they perform under the bright lights of show business every night. However Jim is longing for something more and wants to settle down in a farmhouse in Connecticut. After proposing to Lila and admitting to her that he bought the house, he agrees to live there for awhile until she’s finished with her contract. However life doesn’t go according to plan and Lila ends up breaking the engagement. While Jim feels lost without her, he meets Linda, a high spirited schoolteacher. He soon finds out she has a knack for singing and together, along with his new friend Louise, they turn the farmhouse into a beautiful inn that performs dazzling productions for various holidays. However when Jim’s friend Ted tries to lure Linda away into the sparkling world of show business as his new dance partner, Jim but find a way to save her and the inn.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this show is the music. While the story isn’t as familiar to many theatre patrons, the score is full of hits that people of all ages will know. Some of them are classic tunes that we all know such as “White Christmas” and “Heave Waves.” Others are a bit more distinguished with an older crowd including “Blue Skies” and “Check to Cheek.” These songs make the show more entertaining and the plot more palatable. The plot has some issues. While it does convey a happy go lucky time at an Inn with incredible choreography by Tamara Kangas Erickson, I wanted to know more of the stakes. The climax just wasn’t there for me and when it did hit it just wasn’t big enough. I wanted more excitement.
The Twin Cities and surrounding metro area is full of talented and extremely gifted performers. While the plot wasn’t there, the performers were on top of these numbers! There was no small part at all as I felt even the large ensemble all got their individual moments. They sounded great and filled this quaint theatre with beautiful holiday music. Honestly I was ready for Christmas music after this show and it was still the middle of October! The four leads all are triple threats on the stage from their acting, to dancing and singing. Some excelled in various categories more than others but as a foursome, they light up the minute we see them. Jessica Fredrickson plays the almost whiny Lila and nails the role perfectly. Tony Vierling plays Ted and is an impressive dancer whose range and styles of dancing were shown off quite nicely. Ann Michels is a gorgeous voice that soars through the space filling every room. Michael Gruber plays Jim and humanizes him brilliantly. We all feel for him through his highs and lows.
A new actress to my viewing pleasure, although certainly not to the Twin Cities scene, is Michelle Barber. Barber plays Louise, a local helper who used to work on the farmhouse before it was sold to Jim. She convinces him to let her stay and continue helping him. She is a big scene stealer in this production. Her antics are wild and hilarious with an Elaine Stritch type charm. She’s sharp and honest which makes her easily the highlight of the show for me.
I think what’s truly special about this production is how the story runs parallels with the background of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres themselves. Before the show started, the daughter of the, now deceased, owners spoke a few words. She talked about how her parents created a dinner theatre in the middle of nowhere for performing art lovers and performers. This almost runs directly with the story of Holiday Inn which makes it feel even more special as apart of their 50th year. Also it was smart to do this show because I assume many people automatically think “Oh this is a Christmas musical,” it actually does a nice job of splitting its time across various holidays. From a theatre administrative side it’s brilliant to do it now where society is rushed through non stop holidays October through February
Overall, Holiday Inn is still a delightful evening of incredible dancing, fabulous performing and magnificent artistry. Chanhassen has once again shown that they are not only one of a kind but also are here to stick around for another 50 years. It was announced as well that Chanhassen will be producing Mamma Mia as their next production and you can guarantee I’ll be there!
Holiday Inn plays at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre now through February 23rd.
Photo Credit: Tom Wallace, 2018