When your 11.5-year-old son leans over 20 minutes into a musical and says, “Mom, this is so cool,” and your 50-year-old brother-in-law announces “this was better than Wicked!” at intermission (which he’d seen on Broadway), and your mother-in-law calls your husband the next day in tears because she just loved it all so much, you know you have a winner of a show on your hands.
Welcome to Holiday Inn at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake — the big, colourful, cheery, family-friendly, rom-com musical by Irving Berlin, ready to tap-dance right into your holiday hearts. But it’s only playing until December 22, so go nab your tickets and then come back and finish reading more about it (I promise: no spoilers!).
Pro Tip: the best dates/times for ticket availability are Dec 18, 19 and 20 (1pm); Dec 17 (2pm); and Dec 5, 12 and 19 (7pm).
This past weekend, our group of 13 — that’s everyone on Big B’s side who lives in Canada — embarked on what I’m pretty sure will now become an annual holiday pilgrimage to The Shaw. None of us had ever seen Holiday Inn on-stage before and most of us didn’t even know the story.
Let me quickly set the scene: Jim, Lila and Ted are a touring trio who dance and sing their way from club to club hoping for their big break. Jim wants a quieter life, though, and proposes to Lila on the brink of a showbiz offer she can’t refuse. She accepts his proposal and they agree her six-week gig with Ted will be her last. But she ultimately chooses the bright lights of New York City instead of Jim’s old Connecticut farmhouse.
But that’s OK because Jim meets Linda, who’s a tap-dancing schoolteacher with a heart and voice of gold. With help from the local farmhand, Louise (played by the hilarious Jenny L. Wright, whom we just saw this summer in The Horse and His Boy), they turn the struggling farmhouse into a gorgeous inn. And here’s the catch: it’s open only on holidays!
There are so many familiar songs in Holiday Inn that even my kids knew one. After all, “White Christmas” has survived nicely since the 1942 recording by Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Other Berlin hits like “Cheek to Cheek,” “Easter Parade” and “Happy Holiday” (all written specifically for this show) are accompanied by marvelous singing and so much dancing you’ll be tapping your toes throughout.
Ignore the age 10+ recommendation for this performance listed on the Shaw Festival website. We had a couple of eight year olds with us who loved every minute of it. If you have an under-10 theatre-loving kid who’s well-behaved and can comfortably sit through a 2.5-hour show with one intermission, GO FOR IT. The story is easy to follow, the set is wonderful and the singing and dancing is infectious. If your whole family isn’t smiling ear to ear by the end, I’d be shocked.
Now, if you really want to amp up your Holiday Inn experience, add a $10 “Tap Dancing for All” workshop before your show. We LOVED this! Two hours before the performance, assistant choreographer David Ball (who’s also in Holiday Inn) took our group of 25 or so eager tap-dancing-wannabes through some basic steps and then we learned a routine to part of one song from the show. So fun.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never stepped foot in a dance studio, You. Can. Do. This.
Some people came in tap shoes (we didn’t) and some people had clearly never tapped a tap in their lives. But everyone had a blast, and David was awesome. It was pretty cool for the kids to meet him and then see him in the show that afternoon, too.
I have it on good authority that the Dec 14 and 21 tap workshops (both at 11 a.m.) still have some availability, so you can make quite a day of it while you hit up the Dec 14/21 matinee or evening performances. These workshops really create a full-circle theatre experience and you can’t beat the price.
Bottom line: Holiday Inn is a fantastic way to get into the holiday spirit with your family. And, who knows? Maybe you’ll end up creating your own family tradition, too.
DISCLAIMER: Shaw Festival compensated me for this post. All opinions and superlatives are my own. 😉