Through July 20, there are two Holiday Inns in Rock Island, and both are lovely places in which to stay, relax and luxuriate.
One, of course, is the longtime downtown hotel, and literally two blocks away — at the cozy, comforting Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse — is the enchanting, entertaining musical “Holiday Inn,” a delightfully old-fashioned confection full of beautiful Irving Berlin songs.
Like its classic 1942 movie inspiration, which starred Bing Crosby and popularized “White Christmas,” the stage version tells of Jim (Tristan Tapscott), who leaves the bright lights of show business behind to settle down on his Connecticut farmhouse only to find that life isn’t the same without song and dance.
Jim’s luck takes a spectacular turn when he meets Linda (Brooke Myers), a spirited schoolteacher with talent to spare. Together, they turn the farmhouse into a fabulous inn with dazzling performances to celebrate each holiday, from Thanksgiving to the Fourth of July. But when Jim’s best friend, Ted (Will Nash Broyles), tries to lure Linda away to be his new dance partner in Hollywood, can Jim salvage his latest chance at love?
The musical opened on Broadway in 2016, and its incandescent parade of Berlin tunes includes “Blue Skies,” “Easter Parade,” “Steppin' Out With My Baby,” “Heat Wave,” “White Christmas,” “Be Careful, It's My Heart,” and “Cheek to Cheek.”
Tapscott — in his 50th Circa production — steps seamlessly into the dashing leading-man role, but exudes just the right amount of humility and open-hearted goodness as the idealistic Jim. He initially wants to leave show business for a simpler life, and raise a family ("The Little Things in Life").
Jim's club performing partner — the brassy, outgoing Lila (the always brilliant Erin Churchill) is reluctant to leave the spotlight. When Ted and his manager, Danny (a perfectly cast, dependable Tom Walljasper), announce that the trio booked a six-week tour, Jim rejects the offer, but Lila agrees to tour with Ted as a duo, promising to join Jim in Connecticut afterward.
Looking forward to his quieter life, Jim moves to Midville and when someone asks him what could be better than Broadway, Tapscott answers in the eternally optimistic Berlin fashion — "Blue Skies,” one of several sunny numbers in the show that sings the praises of a bright future, realizing our shared hopes and dreams. It's also one of many songs — directed and choreographed with stylish assurance by Circa newcomer Shane Hall — featuring the crackerjack ensemble.
With a cute, clear, ringing voice, Myers is a charming, sprightly Linda, the aspiring performer-turned-schoolteacher who had lived on the farm. She and Tapscott share a winning chemistry, starting with the strong “Marching Along With Time.” Into their bucolic idyll tromps the enthusiastic, tomboyish farmhand Louise — dressed like Rosie the Riveter, and appropriately played with all the finesse and subtlety as a sledgehammer by the exuberant Morgan Dayley.
This actress was a late substitute in the Circa cast but seems born to play this dominating role, and Dayley breezily steals each scene she's in.
The rambunctious, eager-to-please Broyles, as Ted, is on tour with Churchill and the gang in the glorious “Heat Wave,” which sings of the “Can-Can” but is inexplicably styled to a Latin beat, with Mexican sombreros. It's among many colorful numbers featuring the visually stunning talents of veteran Circa costume designer Greg Hiatt. Including several outfits original to the Broadway production, he offers a captivating feast for the eyes.
Among his many highlights is the second-act “Easter Parade,” a big production number featuring huge women's hats, and Tapscott and Broyles decked out in powder-blue jackets. The second half also has a joyous “Song of Freedom” emblazoned with the cast in shining red, white and blue outfits, dancing their hearts out.
Being a classic '40s Berlin musical, there also are plenty of opportunities for the guys to impress in their sophisticated tuxes, and women glitter in their often sparkly, brightly-hued gowns.
“Shaking the Blues Away” — led by an enthusiastic Dayley — is another example of the boisterous ensemble saluting sunny skies, and proclaiming that life's too short to sit around moping. At the Christmas season, Louise smartly reminds us that families come in all shapes and sizes.
Though the story says that Jim and Louise decide to turn the farm into an inn, only open on holidays, that's not exactly clear by the action. We don't really see visitors bringing in luggage to stay over. With his upright piano, Jim will write a song for each holiday, to be performed by him, Linda, and his friends.
Despite not including the rarely-performed verse of “White Christmas,” Tapscott and Myers deliver a subdued, reflective version of the holiday chestnut, which returns as a bigger reprise at the show's close.
Walljasper, the venue veteran, is ideally suited to his lovable, gangster-like role as Danny. He's a true cynical, fast-talking city slicker. Act II's “Let's Take An Old-Fashioned Walk” is appropriately old-fashioned, an elegant waltz. Berlin's sleek romance also shines in the beguiling 'Cheek to Cheek.”
In a June 7 Facebook post, Tapscott quoted Rob McClure: “I became an actor because I enjoy being moved, and therefore strive to move others. I don’t know how one pursues a life in the arts without sentiment. And yet that word has been discredited, or even weaponized, to mean 'cheap' or 'trite.' It’s as if we don’t want to get caught feeling too much these days.”
Being sentimental or nostalgic should never be out of fashion or belittled. Classics become classics for a reason — they move us and touch our heart. In these often troubled days (of insensitivity and dark divisiveness), we could all use a little tenderness, care and simple affection for each other and life's beauty. That's what makes “Holiday Inn” worthy celebrating.