By Karen Isaacs
A recurrent trend in musicals is to take a well-known Hollywood musical and adapt it for the stage. Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical, is just such a property that is now at Roundabout Theatre’s Studio 54. This version began life at Goodspeed in East Haddam in the fall of 2014.The stage version has a book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge
The film was known for starring the top song (Bing Crosby) and dance (Fred Astaire) men of the period. It combined Irving Berlin songs – some old, some new – in a plot about two show business partners who break up. Jim (the Crosby role) wants to quit show business to marry the sexy girl (Lila Dixon) in the act; he’s bought a farm in Connecticut sight unseen and plans to become a farmer. Ted Hanover (the Astaire role) wants to make it big in Hollywood and convinces Lila to go along for one last big engagement that may get him to California.
The big engagement at Chicago’s Pump Room keeps getting extended while Jim is back in Connecticut struggling with a dilapidated house and a lack of farming skills. But he does meet an attractive schoolteacher (and former aspiring singer/dancer) whose family owned the property. Plus he meets Louise, a jack-of-all-trades handy woman with a sense of humor. Soon he’s behind in his mortgage. With a little help from Linda Mason, the schoolteacher, and Louise, he hits on a plan: Enlist his show business buddies who are off on holidays and have nowhere to go, to turn the farm into an Inn complete with rooms, food and entertainment. The gimmick? It will ONLY open on holidays.
Complications have to develop. Lila wants no part of rural life; she is still dreaming of Hollywood until a Texan with money entices her to relocate there. Jim and Linda are obviously meant for each other but some bumps in the road must appear. In this case it is Ted, again. He had lured Lila away for that one last gig. Now he shows up at the Inn totally inebriated on New Year’s Eve and dances with Linda. Soon she is all he can think of – she is the “perfect” partner to get his show business dreams on the road again. So while Jim and Linda are making slow but steady progress in the romance department, Ted ss about to swoop in and offer her a chance at a Hollywood screen test.
Yet, it all ends happily. What else could you expect from a 1940s move musical? What was different, it that this was one of the few films were Astaire does not get the girl.
What other changes from the movie? One number which has become controversial — a number for Lincoln’s Birthday that was performed in blackface — has been removed, as well as one or two other songs. BUT lots of great Irving Berlin songs have been added. So while “Easter Parade” was in the original we now also have “Blue Skies,” ‘What’ll I Do?” “You’re Easy to Dance With,” “Let’s Take an Old Fashioned Walk,” and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” among others.
Turning a classic movie into a stage show creates some problems. Special effects, even with today’s stage technology is more limited as are playing spaces and sets. Yet this production overcomes most the obstacles.
Is it a great musical? Not really, but it is an enjoyable evening’s entertainment in large part due to the outstanding cast.
Bryce Pinkham is Jim, and brings his terrific voice and winning personality to the role. He adds charm to the part of the earnest idealist. His renditions of “Blue Skies,” “It’s a Lovely Day Today” and “White Christmas are all spot on. You believe he is heart-broken over losing Lila, no matter how suitable the audience can see she is from the very beginning, his awkwardness around Linda and his frustration when Ted once again appears to be taking away his girl.
Corbin Bleu is Ted. He doesn’t try to capture the suavity of Astaire but projects a less polished and sophisticated energy in the character and in the dancing. Plus he has a very good singing voice.
Lora Lee Gaynor is girl next door Linda who once had show business aspirations. She develops all the complexities of the role: the lonely school teacher with ties to both the farm and show business. Her number with Jim of “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk” is a standout.
The more comic elements are carried by Megan Lawrence as Louise. Plus, she gets a chance to show off her singing and dancing. Her comic timing is terrific. Megan Sikora plays Lila brings out her “dumb blonde” and gold digger aspects to good comic effect. But she makes her likable which is necessary for the plot. Morgan Gao also adds humor as the young boy, Charlie who pops up to deliver messages from the bank and make some wise comments.
Gordon Greenberg has directed the piece with affection and steady pacing. This is a show that keeps moving aided by the choreography by Denis Jones. Two dance numbers are standouts – one involves jump rope and the other includes firecrackers; a homage to the Astaire fourth of July number in the film. It’s more impressive on the stage.
Contributing to the effects of the show are costumes by Alejo Vietti, set design by Anna Louizos, lighting design by Jeff Croiter and sound design by Keith Caggiano.
Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical is at Roundabout’s Studio 54 Theater, 254 W. 54th St., through January 15. For tickets visit Roundabout Theatre.