Holiday Inn: The New Irving Berlin Musical
Studio 54, NYC, October 14, 2016
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes
Even if Holiday Inn is not actually The NEW Irving Berlin Musical, it’s a show that will shake your blues away. The Roundabout Theatre Company production is a spruced-up version of the 1942 Holiday Inn film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire with songs by Berlin. Updated to 1946 with an upbeat, post-WWII mood, it has been rejuvenated by playwrights Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge and readymade for any holiday that comes around.
As the story goes, Jim Hardy (Bryce Pinkham) and Ted Hanover (Corbin Bleu), a hardworking song-and-dance team, break up after the war when Jim decides to follow his dream, marry dancer Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora) and buy a farm in Connecticut. Unfortunately, Lila is not quite ready for the quiet life. She turns down Connecticut to follow Ted on the show-biz road toward the bright lights of Broadway.
Off in rural Connecticut, Jim finds that farming is not so easy: the house is rickety and a mortgage is always looming. Gray skies turn blue when he meets Linda (Lora Lee Gayer), a spirited local teacher and secret wannabe singer. Soon after, “Louise Badger, fix-it man,” comes to the door. Louise is normally played by Megan Lawrence, but in this performance, Jenifer Foote steps in to portray the lovable brassy Jill-of-all-trades who does it all, from carpentry to creating a party. The house takes shape, but money is still scarce.
On Christmas Eve, Louise perks up the spirits in the farmhouse by getting Jim’s old Broadway gang to come up to the country to help trim the Christmas tree. In a show-stopping “Shakin’ the Blues Away,” Louise and the tap-dancing ensemble jump rope with Christmas garlands, drink eggnog and even the struggling Jim gets into the holiday spirit. “Life is way too short to be moping around. I never want to spend another holiday by myself.” So, with a little help from his friends, Jim decides to turn the farmhouse into an inn only open on holidays. Linda can fulfill her singing dreams and Jim sees a bright future—until New Year’s Eve, however, when his former partner bursts in and dangles dreams of Broadway in front of Linda’s eyes.
Director Greenberg presents the Berlin songbook with a glow of romance and spice of fun. The plot struggles between Jim and Linda’s budding romance, the staggering steps to put on a show, and the intrusions of Ted and, later, Lila. Berlin’s songs are tucked into every possible situation. Just the holidays alone provide spots for “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade,” “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” for Valentine’s Day. Choreographer Denis Jones created catchy dance numbers, like “You’re Easy to Dance With” for Ted to show off some fancy steps with not one, but eight chorus girls. Ted also shines in his improvisation for Independence Day, using firecrackers in place of his missing partner’s tap rhythms in “Let’s Say It with Firecrackers.” Orchestrations by Larry Blank are vibrant, with Andy Einhorn conducting a snappy orchestra.
Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) adds charm and smooth tenor tones, lending a shy sexiness to Jim, but Corbin Bleu (High School Musical), as a self-involved, high-octane dancer, does not lend much personality and depth to his thinly sketched part. Gayer (Doctor Zhivago), who sings with lovely sincerity also shows an up-to-date wit and confidence. Sikora is a look-back at the prototypical 1940s flashy chorine. Temporarily stepping into the role of the super-efficient Louise, Foote fit the bill with broad comedy and authority. Other laughs come from Lee Wilkof as Danny, the brash old-style booking agent, and young Morgan Gao as Charlie, a local kid who sees all and remembers all.
Alejo Vietti designed smart, colorful costumes for every occasion from glam glitz to perky barnyard casuals. Greenberg and Hodge’s book is slight, but the performances, the music and the production are unpretentious, bright and fun. Holiday Inn is old-fashioned fun any time of the year.