NEW YORK – The Christmas season has arrived early on Broadway this year with the opening of “Holiday Inn” at Roundabout’s Studio 54 Theatre on West 54th Street near Broadway.
“Holiday Inn” is a stage version of the 1942 film that starred classic crooner Bing Crosby and dance man Fred Astaire and featured a treasure trove of Irving Berlin songs, including his seasonal melancholy melody, “White Christmas.” There are some bright, pleasant performances in “Holiday Inn,” and almost every member of the large cast is a charmer.
Unfortunately, the director, Gordon Greenberg, and TV writer Chad Hodge have encased the songs into a new book that is full of sentimental nonsense. The dialogue seems to form a rickety bridge to the next Berlin song or dance number. The humor is saccharine, and it reverts into a kind of cuteness that would make “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” seem as portentous as “Oedipus the King.” Choreographer Denis Jones’s dances are slickly professional, but most seem derivative of the film’s musical staging, with no real new invention. Of course, that is probably what Berlin wanted: no plot, just his music and lyrics.
Although Universal Stage Productions is presenting the show with the Roundabout, the film was originally presented by Paramount Pictures. Paramount hired playwright Elmer Rice and scripter Claude Binyon to write a screenplay; Mr. Berlin wrote songs specifically for the film. “Holiday Inn” received the Academy Award in 1943 for Mr. Berlin’s “White Christmas.”
Paramount thought of the film as an American ABC musical, with the letters standing for Astaire, Berlin and Crosby. Their co-stars were Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale. Ms. Reynolds later turned up as William Bendix’s wife on “The Life of Riley.” Ms. Dale was one of Mr. Astaire’s favorite dancing partners.
The Broadway show’s sliver of a story sticks closely to the film version. Two Hoboken vaudevillians, Jim Hardy (Bryce Pinkham) and Ted Hanover (Corbin Bleu) fall in love with the same girl, Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora). Mr. Bleu and Ms. Sikora get booked on a tour, sending Mr. Hardy into temporary retirement in Connecticut, where he buys a deteriorating inn. There, he meets a local singer, Linda Mason (Lora Lee Gayer), who has star potential, and they decide to turn Mr. Hardy’s inn into a “Holiday Inn,” a theater featuring yearly shows for Christmas, Easter and Fourth of July celebrations. What a nice way to use Mr. Berlin’s many holiday songs.
Mr. Pinkham and Mr. Bleu are not of Crosby or Astaire caliber, but they are capable Broadway talents ready-made for their roles. Mr. Pinkham received a Tony nomination for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Mr. Pinkham’s strong singing voice has a nice way with Mr. Berlin’s ballads, especially “White Christmas” and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.”
Mr. Bleu was a runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars” and was featured in “High School Musical” and on stage in “In the Heights.” Mr. Bleu is fine with the “Cheek to Cheek” number from “Top Hat.” However, he shines in “Let’s Say it With Firecrackers,” which Astaire created especially for the film and spent 38 takes getting it the way he wanted. Mr. Bleu only gets one and is perfect.
“Holiday Inn” is more of a showcase for male roles, yet the women have fine voices for Berlin’s songs. Ms. Sikora is fine with “It’s a Lovely Day Today” and “Plenty to Be Thankful For.” Ms. Gayer has the majority of ballad songs and does wonders with “Nothing More to Say.”
There is a very funny handy-man lady at the inn, reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter, named Louise (Megan Lawrence), who shakes up Act One with “Shaking the Blues Away.”
The young chorus of eight men and eight women, large for a Broadway production, is expert. Chorus members dance and twirl, strut and sway and leap in routines to Mr. Berlin’s music.
All of the Berlin songs span the years of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, and some haven’t been heard for years. The period scenery by Anna Louizas is ho-hum while Alejo Vietti’s sets are colorful and theatrical for a musical set in the World War II years. The Berlin music was supervised and-well conducted by Andy Einhorn.
Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment.