They sure know how to pop the bubbly in Chanhassen. On Friday — or Chanhassen Dinner Theatres Day, as Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed to mark the theater’s 50th anniversary — the company pulled out all the stops in opening its 237th show, “Holiday Inn.”
With a gorgeous cast, a parade of exquisite costumes and lush arrangements of Irving Berlin’s score, the musical and dance numbers flow like Champagne.
Director Michael Brindisi, who has a knack for finding heart in the shallowest of properties, works his magic here, orchestrating a joyous, exhilarating experience from what is actually a very slight show. Based on the 1942 Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire movie musical best remembered for introducing the song “White Christmas,” this stage adaptation was cobbled together by writers Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge just four years ago. It bowed on Broadway in 2016 for a brief run.
The plot, set in 1946, is flimsy: Jim Hardy (Michael Gruber), who is part of a song-and-dance trio, has grown tired of the showbiz life, putting him at odds with partners Ted (Tony Vierling) and Lila (Jessica Fredrickson), who is also his fiancée. Seeking the quiet life, he buys a farmhouse in Midville, Conn., from Linda Mason (Ann Michels), a teacher with an entertainment background. Soon, he’s late on his mortgage. But it’s nothing that a little song and dance can’t help.
Brindisi, marking 30 years at the helm of one of the nation’s leading dinner theaters, is working with a top-notch cast. Gruber, a Broadway singer (“A Chorus Line,” “Cats,” “Kiss Me Kate”), can be overantic in his acting, falling back on cuteness as if he doesn’t entirely trust his ability to plumb deeper emotion. But in this performance he’s straightforward, coming through with sincerity and honesty. And his singing is dreamy on numbers such as “Blue Skies” and “The Little Things in Life.”
Michels, too, is a consummate pro with surefire craft. She knows how to invest a song with wit and emotion, and with excellent comic timing. Michels is pitch-perfect on “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” sung with Jim and Ted.
As the ambition-driven Ted, who pours everything into his singing, acting and dancing, Vierling is butter-smooth. He was hardly out of breath on the showstopping number “You’re Easy to Dance With.” And he has perhaps too much fun throwing fire like a Greek demigod on “Let’s Say It With Firecrackers.”
Vierling and Fredrickson are seamless as they change costumes and move between venues as Ted and Lila tour the country on “Heat Wave.” Fredrickson is sharp and whip-smart, finding wit with her movements, her phrasing and acting.
But there’s an unexpected show-stealer in this “Holiday Inn.” As the farmhouse caretaker — an uncured ham — Michelle Barber brings the house down with “Shake the Blues Away.” And who says there isn’t life after theater criticism? Former Star Tribune writer Graydon Royce is charismatic and credible as a radio announcer and ensemble singer.
Speaking of that ensemble, Brindisi and choreographer Tamara Kangas Erickson have shaped them into some fetching pictures against simple but evocative backdrops designed by Nayna Ramey. The well executed choreography is thrilling, with an inspiring tap-dance and jump-rope number. Music director Andy Kust and costume designer Rich Hamson create feasts for the ears and eyes.
“Holiday Inn” was panned on Broadway for being recycled, which is true enough. But the Chanhassen team makes it into something special. In a onetime cornfield where a theater was built 50 years ago, these hoofers and singers are killing it.