Most musicals are lucky to have one showstopping number. Holiday Inn, the new Broadway show adapted from the 1942 film starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, features two. One of them, “Shaking the Blues Away,” sums up what this musical packed with 20 Irving Berlin songs succeeds in doing. So sweetly wholesome that you experience a sugar rush while watching it, the show is corny and predictable. But it will surely provide a happy diversion for stressed-out theatergoers during the holiday season, much like its similarly conceived predecessor, White Christmas, which received limited end-of-year Broadway runs in 2008 and 2009.
Previously seen at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House, the musical, co-written and directed by Gordon Greenberg, mainly follows the template of the beloved movie. Set in 1946, the story concerns song-and-dance team Jim Hardy (Bryce Pinkham, Tony-nominated for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) and Ted Hanover (High School Musical‘s Corbin Bleu) splitting up when Jim decides to ditch show business and run a farm in rural Connecticut. Jim hopes that their fellow singer, and his girlfriend, Lila (Megan Sikora), will give up the footlights and join him, but she opts to go out on the road with Ted instead.
The farm, which comes complete with a wisecracking, live-in handywoman (Megan Lawrence), proves less than successful. The unexpected visit of Jim’s old showbiz buddies inspires him to turn it into an inn open only on holidays, featuring lavish musical entertainments. Meanwhile, Jim’s budding romantic relationship with the house’s former owner, Linda (Lora Lee Gayer), becomes threatened when Ted drunkenly dances with her and decides she would make a perfect partner.
Although the story is more fleshed out than in the film, the rudimentary book co-written by Greenberg and Chad Hodge (creator of Fox’s Wayward Pines and upcoming TNT drama series Good Behavior) fails to develop the characters beyond thin archetypes. Instead it relies on a plethora of clichéd jokes, such as when Jim’s frustrated agent, upon hearing of his client’s plan to move to Connecticut, warns him, “You’ll end up wearing plaid and repressing your feelings.”
It’s also unfortunate that Universal Pictures, whose stage division was involved in the production, felt the need to plug itself so relentlessly, including showcasing its logo in an ersatz film clip.
Happily, the wonderful Berlin songs provide ample pleasures. Besides the familiar hits from the film (“Happy Holiday,” “Easter Parade,” “White Christmas”), the show includes other numbers such as “Steppin‘ Out With My Baby,” “Blue Skies,” “Heat Wave,” and “Cheek to Cheek.” “White Christmas” is amusingly introduced by Jim describing it to Linda as “an old Christmas song I wrote years ago and stuck in a drawer,” while “Easter Parade” features a display of dazzling bonnets.
But the absolute highlights, one in each act, are “Shaking the Blues Away,” in which the ensemble merrily dances while simultaneously jumping rope, and “Let’s Say It With Firecrackers/Song of Freedom,” with Bleu terrifically recreating Astaire’s literally explosive tap-dancing number from the film. Denis Jones’ consistently inventive choreography for these and other numbers provides the large ensemble cast plenty of opportunities to strut their stuff.
Pinkham and Gayer prove an appealing romantic duo, while Bleu displays his formidable singing and dancing chops in his underwritten role. Lawrence steals the show with her hilarious turn as the resourceful handywoman, and Sikora, Wilkof and young Morgan Gao, the last playing a neighborhood kid constantly delivering unfortunate news, provide fine comic support.
Although Anna Louizos‘ sets are little more than serviceable, the costumes by Alejo Vietti are outstanding, especially in the elaborate production numbers, and Larry Blank’s orchestrations serve the classic songs beautifully, only enhancing the sheer joy that the production’s showstoppers elicit. There may be lulls in between, but this is a Holiday Inn you’ll want to check into.
Venue: Studio 54, New York
Cast: Bryce Pinkham, Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gayer, Megan Lawrence, Megan Sikora, Lee Wilkof, Morgan Gao, Malik Akil, Will Burton, Barry Busby, Darien Crago, Caley Crawford, Jennifer Foote, Matt Meigs, Shina Ann Morris, Catherine Ricafort, Drew Redington, Amanda Rose, Jonalyn Saxer, Parker Slaybaugh, Samantha Sturm, Amy Van Norstrand, Travis Ward-Osborne, Paige Williams, Victor Wisehart, Kevin Worley, Borris York
Director: Gordon Greenberg
Music & lyrics: Irving Berlin
Book: Gordon Greenberg, Chad Hodge
Set designer: Anna Louizos
Costume designer: Alejo Vietti
Lighting designer: Jeff Croiter
Sound designer: Keith Caggiano
Choreographer: Denis Jones
Musical supervision & direction: Andy Einhorn
Orchestrations: Larry Blank
Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company, in association with Universal Stage Productions