Holiday Inn the New Irving Berlin Musical – Roundabout Theatre Company’s Studio 54, New York

(left to right) Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gayer and Bryce Pinkham in Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical

(left to right) Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gayer and Bryce Pinkham in Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Studio 54, New York. Picture: Joan Marcus

Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical continues at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Studio 54, New York until 15 January.

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

Holiday Inn is the kind of show that makes you feel like a time-traveller. You’ve been whisked back to the late 1940s (that’s even before the ubiquitous hotel chain that borrowed the show’s title had its start). You’re seated in a Broadway theatre where you’re witnessing the latest Irving Berlin musical, coming right on the heels of his smash success with Annie Get Your Gun.

In fact, the full title of this latest offering is Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical. It’s an adaptation of the 1942 movie that starred silver screen favourites Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It’s the film that gave birth to the song ‘White Christmas’, which already is rivalling ‘Silent Night’ when it comes to caroling.

The overture lets you know you’re going to hear plenty more hummable music as well, with a score that’s a bounty of Berlin songs. And soon you’ll be seeing a steady stream of production numbers, filled with attractive chorus girls and guys, familiar but still snazzy tap routines and costumes that put Technicolor to shame, as the book’s innocuous romantic triangle works its way to a happy ending.

In short, it’s a show filled with the old-time virtues of old-time Broadway musical comedy. Nothing groundbreaking, provocative, intense or jolting. Just sit back and enjoy.

The story, as you might recall from the movie, centres on Jim Hardy (Bryce Pinkham), a crooner who’s part of a variety trio that includes dancing man Ted Hanover (Corbin Bleu) and sex bomb Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora).

Jim, though, longs for the simple life: he leaves the act and buys a farm at auction. Jim has also proposed to Linda and the plan is that she will join him on the farm after doing a last tour with Ted. Meanwhile, Jim finds out quickly enough that he can’t make it as a farmer, but there’s some compensation in that he meets Linda Mason (Lora Lee Gayer), the comely daughter of the farm’s late owner, sparking some mutual attraction.

Then, on a Christmas Eve that looks like it is going to pretty quiet, a bevy of Jim’s showbiz pals descend on the farm and get together for a riotous rendering of ‘Shaking the Blues Away’.

Bright idea! Let’s turn the farm into an inn that’s open only on holidays and attract customers by putting on a big holiday-themed show.

Miraculously, they are able to do this in a week’s time, with a flashy New Year’s Eve spectacular. Things are going swell until Ted arrives on the scene quite inebriated and looking for a new dance partner for his upcoming Hollywood screen test; Lila has left the act to connect with a rich suitor. And who might that new partner be? Of course, it’s Linda. But never fear, things end up as they should with Jim and Linda strutting down the aisle.

Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge supply an appropriately jokey book filled with laugh lines and laugh-line wannabes.

The comic relief is supplied in part by a tart-tongued local named Louise, who takes on the job as Jim’s housekeeper in exchange for room and board. At the performance reviewed, she was played without a misstep by understudy Jenifer Foote; Megan Lawrence is the usual Louise. (How these understudies pull this off is one of the miracles of Broadway.)

Adding to the gags are a smart-mouthed little kid who works as the bank messenger (Morgan Gao), delivering Jim his barrages of bills, and Ted’s agent (Lee Wilkof), always prepared with a disgruntled quip.

Greenberg has also directed the proceedings in proficient style, keeping things moving snappily with the help of Anna Louizos’ pretty set designs that move easily from nightclubs to bucolic landscapes. Alejo Vietti’s costumes add mightily to the visual buffet.

The real strength of the show, as you might expect, though, lies in the Berlin hit parade. Such standards as ‘Cheek to Cheek’ and ‘Blue Skies’ augment tunes from the movie, including ‘Be Careful, It’s My Heart’ and ‘Let’s Start the New Year Right’. There are some lesser-known songs, such as the torchy ballad ‘Nothing More to Say’.

The spring perennial, ‘Easter Parade’, featured in the movie but originally sung in Berlin’s 1933 revue As Thousands Cheer, gets a prominent airing, with chorus ladies bedecked with eye-grabbing gigantic bonnets. And then, there’s ‘White Christmas’, whose sheet music Jim puts out on the piano on Christmas Eve.

“It’s a Christmas song I wrote years ago and put away in a drawer,’’ he tells Linda. “Maybe it need work,” he adds, much to the delight of the knowing audience. Smartly, the song is not overworked: a couple of choruses by Jim and Linda and a reprise later. After all, there is another Berlin jukebox musical, based on the movie called White Christmas, that’s been trotted out in recent years for Yuletide theatregoing.

The songs all get their due from the 13-piece orchestra led by music supervisor and director Andy Einhorn, and are sung with vivacity and clarity by the cast principals.

The plentiful choreography by Denis Jones often pumps them up to near sho-stopping glory. One particular highlight is Corbin Bleu’s tap solo punctuated by exploding firecrackers. (Yes, we know, Fred Astaire did a similar thing in the movie.)

The engaging Bleu’s nimble footwork is a big asset throughout the show, as are Gayer’s expressive singing, graced with some lovely high notes, and Pinkham’s sturdy tenor, while Sikora brings terpsichorean agility and sexiness to Lila.

True, the Jim-Linda romance never really sizzles with passion. However, those Berlin tunes provide all the romance you could want.

Ron Cohen

Readers may also be interested in:

Fiorello! – East 13th Street Theatre, New York – Review


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